It didn’t open with a burst of publicity. You won’t see its logo emblazoned on vans or buses.
But in its own quiet, clever way, ITNCoastalCT is revolutionizing Westport in that most mundane, important area of suburban life: driving.
The concept is spectacularly simple: People 60 or older (or those of any age with visual impairments) become members. By establishing a prepaid account — think E-Z Pass — they have access to a ride, in a private car, anywhere in Westport, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, Fairfield and Easton.
Drivers take riders any place, for any reason. The service is available 24/7/365. The cost of each ride is deducted from the account.
ITN started this past November, with a launch so soft most people have yet to hear about it. “Slow but steady” is the philosophy. (Sort of like the way seniors should drive, but sometimes don’t.)
The response has been “wonderful,” says ITN operations manager Nancy McCormick.
Among the most enthusiastic people: adult children of older drivers.
“They worry about their parents driving,” Nancy says. “So they set up accounts for their parents. They don’t push it. They just say, ‘It’s here for you if you need it.'”
Many seniors “self-limit” their driving, Nancy notes, not going out in snow, rain or after dark. Around here, that’s very limiting.
“They don’t think they’ll use the account,” Nancy says. “But then they have a doctor’s appointment or hair appointment, and it’s raining. So they call us once. And they like it so much, they use us again.”
Part of the appeal is that it’s not just door to door; it’s door through door. And more: “Arm-in-arm,” Nancy says. “Drivers even carry packages.”
In just 3 months, there have been many success stories. One woman used the service for a late-afternoon appointment. A few days later, she had a stroke. Now she uses it often.
A local man spends hours visiting his wife in a nursing home. Sometimes, he says, chatting with the driver is his only adult conversation all day.
There are simple pleasures. A woman describes the rides as “like being with a friend — not a taxi driver.”
Praise also comes from adult children of seniors. One area family did not want their mother to stop driving — because they feared they’d end up driving her everywhere. ITN has eased those worries — while easing the elderly woman out from behind the wheel.
Many senior citizens can drive. But many others may not want to.
“Older people are hesitant to ask their children, or friends, to drive them for ‘non-essential’ reasons — the beauty parlor, the library, exercise class,” Nancy says. With ITN, they go wherever they want — whenever they want to.
On New Year’s Eve, ITN transported someone to dinner. The rider had not gone out at night in 5 years, Nancy says, because she feared driving after dark.
One regular rider is a world-class athlete who still works out, Nancy says. ITN also takes people to board of director and philanthropic foundation meetings. A woman called for a ride (with her pooch) to dog obedience class.
The volunteer drivers — all of whom undergo criminal and background checks, plus training — love the program too. They often tell Nancy how interesting and/or sweet their riders are. “We didn’t realize this would be so rewarding for the drivers too,” she says.
Drivers — most of whom are between 45 and 60 years old — get free membership, and earn credits for their own future needs. They can also apply credits to members of their own family. Or they may donate them to low-income seniors.
Because ITNCoastal CT is part of a national network, riders can use their accounts with any of the 20 or so affiliates. (Snowbirds, note: There are 2 in Florida.) Volunteer drivers may donate credits they accrue to parents or family members who live elsewhere too.
ITN even has a “CarTrade” program. Seniors who no longer drive can trade their vehicle in for account miles.
You may not have heard of ITNCoastalCT — yet. But if you’ve got an elderly parent; if you know someone who may be struggling with driving issues — or if you are ever going to get old yourself — you should remember the name.
(For more information on membership, ridership, volunteer opportunities or financial support, click here; call 203-858-2001, or email email@example.com.)