- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP) - A retired school principal has a plan to expand a nonprofit model of ride-sharing for senior citizens to Sussex County, and is asking the county government for help paying a $35,000 startup fee to get it off the ground.

Nancy Feichtl, a former Cape Henlopen School District principal and administrator, approached the County Council this month week about contributing to the project. Her goal is to launch a branch of ITNAmerica, a cooperative that helps regions set up the ride-sharing networks, in Sussex County.

“It is self-sufficient. It doesn’t depend, once it’s set up, on government money at all,” Feichtl said of the proposed transportation effort. “It is the only transportation cooperative now serving rural areas.”

Here’s how the Sussex Senior Transportation Cooperative would work: People interested in being drivers for the service would volunteer for shifts spent driving customers, in the volunteers’ own cars. Senior citizens who no longer drive could request to be driven to appointments - medical visits, grocery store runs, trips to the hairdresser, etc.

The customers would set up accounts with the co-op that prepaid the costs of their trips, which Feichtl said would be about $1 a mile.

The volunteer drivers, meanwhile, would earn miles in their own accounts as compensation for doing the driving. When the time came for them to give up the wheel, they’d have accumulated hundreds or thousands of miles in credit they could utilize to help them get around.

“Let’s say I drive my neighbor Helen to get chemotherapy,” Feichtl told County Council. “She’s paying her own way - there’s dignity in that - and I’m gaining miles. That’s the beauty of it.”

The system, Feichtl said, has been launched in suburban and rural areas around the country and has matured in many places into a stable part of the transportation system. It bears some resemblance to the ride-sharing networks dreamed up in Silicon Valley, such as Uber and Lyft, that pair willing drivers with paying customers in urban areas via smartphone apps.

People needing rides in ITNAmerica regions, Feichtl said, request them through websites or by calling a central dispatch office. Volunteers may earn credits for future rides by answering those phones, she said.

“We would not be reinventing the wheel. We would be joining a national affiliate that has been in business for 20 years,” Feichtl said in an interview.

The County Council didn’t act immediately on Feichtl’s pitch. Feichtl said the Delaware Community Foundation is helping the effort by allowing the co-op to raise tax-deductible funds under its umbrella nonprofit status.

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com