Across the U.S., older people are struggling to find transportation. So it should come as no surprise to the many older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers who participated in a new poll conducted by the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center that one of the key findings is that “there is no single ‘go-to’ resource for alternative transportation options.” “Accessibility is as much about access to information as it is about whether a bus or van has an accessible ramp. One is as important as the other,” said President/CEO of Easterseals Angela F. Williams.
Easterseals and the survey participants are not the only ones who noticed. Seven years ago, Regeneron, a biotechnology company based in Tarrytown, New York, noticed as well — there is no single "go-to" resource for alternative transportation. The company reached out to Westbrook, Maine-based ITN America — the first national non-profit transportation network for older adults and visually challenged people.
The company sought information about any resources that provided seniors and their families with information about transportation options available to them in their communities. “I didn’t think that kind of easily accessible resource existed anywhere, but I told them we could build it,” said Katherine Freund, ITN’s founder and executive director. “We would need to build a database, and since we are a non-profit, we wanted to make that database searchable, online, and free to the public,” she said of their requirements. Regeneron readily agreed, and a few months later, ITN began the year-long process of researching every single transportation resource in the U.S., county-by-county, meticulously verifying each entry.
That national resource, Rides in Sight, has been available, free to the public, since October 2013. By building Rides in Sight for the initial goal of helping people who need a ride to eye doctor appointments, ITN America simultaneously helped everyone who needs information about transportation in their community, including seniors and people with disabilities.
For those with limited computer skills, Rides in Sight also provides help to callers through a toll-free hotline. With more than 15,000 transportation services listed, Rides in Sight includes all public transit, paratransit, and for-profit services such as taxicabs, TNC’s (transportation network companies), and nearly 1,000 volunteer non-profit services from coast to coast. Also included are transportation services provided by home-care agencies as well as municipal and county-run services.
Designed by special needs experts
■ Not only is Rides in Sight comprehensive, the database was designed by experts who specialize in transportation services for people with special needs. When Rides in Sight’s trained customer service representatives answer the phone, they take their callers through a friendly sequence of questions to learn: location, age, mobility challenges (do they need a lift-equipped vehicle), visual impairments, trip purpose, and whether they need additional assistance. Callers usually offer other information, too, such as whether they are veterans.
“Rides in Sight was designed to be a simple, reliable, and easy-to-use tool for anyone who needs a ride,” said Freund. “The point is to connect people in need of transportation with organizations offering services locally.” Each entry includes a detailed rundown of the service organization, from contact information and pricing structure to service area, type of vehicle used, and more. The database is updated weekly by Rides in Sight’s small team of customer service representatives.
Many different kinds of people reach out to Rides in Sight for information: 22% are people in need of a ride themselves and 66% of callers are family members or friends calling on behalf of someone else. The rest are social workers and health care professionals looking to support a patient or client. The average age of a caller is 74; 18% are visually impaired; and 20% use a mobility device such as walker, wheelchair, or cane. Each search finds on average 2.5 transportation options for callers, with 52% of callers receiving three or more options. Most callers (80%) need rides to medical appointments, but people also call to go grocery shopping, visit the pharmacy, and go on social outings.
Nancy, 85, from Wisconsin, was a typical caller. She was in need of rides to and from the eye doctor. Nancy still drives, but not when she has monthly eye appointments. She was able to find a free volunteer transportation service through Rides in Sight to get her to and from eye appointments.
“This will surely help,” Nancy said of the service.
The program has helped thousands of people since it was launched and it has the capacity to help many more, according to Freund.
Katherine Freund is President & Executive Director and Erik Eisele is
Communications Specialist for ITN America.