There is no question that public transportation is not available in many parts of Sussex County. For the elderly or those with sight impairment, this means asking friends or family to take them where they need to go. Many medical transport companies only take people to doctor’s appointments, although those who are unable to drive need to go to the grocery store, to visit friends or relatives or even to take a pet to the vet. The Independent Transportation Network (ITNSouthernDelaware) is working to address those challenges.
“We provide a transportation co-op that is membership based,” said Janis Hanwell, Rides Coordinator for the CHEER Center in Milton. “We have been serving the Lewes to Fenwick area as well as Selbyville and Millsboro, but we are expanding our service into Milford. We hope to be throughout Sussex County in the next few years”
According to Ms. Hanwell, seniors who are 55 or older and those with visual impairments pay an annual membership fee and deposit money into a secure account. When they arrange for a ride, no money changes hands as payment is done electronically, much like rideshare services like Uber. All drivers are volunteer and are members of the service, although their membership is free. The drivers accrue miles they can use in the future or they can be gifted to a friend or family member. There is also the option to donate miles back to the fund to be used by those who may not be able to afford the transportation.
“We run the service at all hours of the day and night,” Ms. Hanwell said. “We even allow pets so seniors are able to make vet appointments. We do not have a lift van, but can carry canes, walkers, oxygen or collapsible wheelchairs. Our drivers can cross state lines which state transportation services cannot do, so if someone who lives in Selbyville needs to go to a doctor in Salisbury, we can take them.” The annual membership is $35 and anyone who joins in 2016 is locked into that annual rate for life. Cost for a household membership is $60 and will be locked in if a family joins in 2016. If a family membership reverts back to a single membership for any reason, those who joined in 2016 will drop to the $35 rate for life.
Volunteer drivers must be 21 or older and must submit to a DMV and criminal background check. All riders also must submit to the criminal background check. Ms. Hanwell said that this requirement is for the safety of both passengers and drivers. The office is open from 9 AM until 4 PM Monday through Thursday and from 9 AM until Noon on Friday. Ms. Hanwell said it is sometimes difficult to find drivers on weekends, so it is important to make those arrangements early in the week. Arrangements must be made by noon the day before. If an emergency arises, ITNSouthernDelaware may be able to make arrangements, but there is an additional fee.
“Churches have purchased memberships so that their members can use the service for free,” Ms. Hanwell said. “We welcome businesses, organizations or anyone to purchase memberships. If someone is going to an eye appointment, there is no charge for the service as we have a pharmaceutical company that pays for those appointments. Therefore, when they arrange for the ride, they should let us know if it is an eye-related appointment.” Other than eye appointments, there is a $2.50 pickup charge and $1.25 per mile. If the person needs to take a long trip, the service is charged at an hourly rate. The minimum rate is $5 for any trip.
Ms. Hanwell said that people have used the service to attend council meetings, to go to church, to do their grocery shopping or to visit sick friends in the hospital. She said that the drivers use their own vehicle so they are covered by their insurance, but because the service is part of Volunteer Delaware, they have additional insurance through that organization.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for the service should visit itnsoutherndelaware.org to fill out an application. They also have the option of downloading and printing the application for mailing or calling 302-448-8486 to have an application mailed to them.