- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

PORTLAND, Maine — Margaret Emmons had not driven in more than 20 years, so when her husband died last fall, she had no use for their 1997 Ford Taurus.

Rather than sell the car or give it away, she traded it for rides through the Independent Transportation Network (ITN). Now, all she has to do is call for someone to come and give her a lift, perhaps even in her old car.

“It’s what saves me,” Mrs. Emmons, 80, said after returning from the grocery store on a snowy day. “I’d be sunk without it.”

The need for transportation for senior citizens is great. The 65-plus population accounts for more accidents per miles driven than any other group except teenagers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Their numbers will swell as the nation’s 78 million baby boomers reach their golden years.

Launched a decade ago, the Portland area’s ITN provided 15,200 rides to senior citizens last year with no taxpayer money for operations.

The concept of trading in cars for rides is aimed, in part, at getting motorists off the road when they no longer can drive safely. The program was the brainchild of a mother whose son was run over by an elderly man.

Former real estate agent Katherine Freund came up with the concept by using the model of a reverse mortgage, a home-equity loan that enables people to tap into the value of their homes. She simply applied the formula to cars.

Elderly people trade in their cars, and the value is booked into an account from which they can draw to receive rides. Family members and friends also can add to the account by donating cars or cash, or their time as volunteers.

Taxpayers win because the program operates with volunteers and donations. Senior citizens win because they get to ride in a regular car, not a taxi or a bus. The car comes when they want it, so they don’t have to wait at cold, icy bus stops.

Communities that help recruit volunteers are given credits for rides for their elderly people. Doctors, supermarkets and other businesses frequented by senior citizens get into the act by providing small donations for each ride.

Mrs. Emmons and her husband used ITN occasionally when he was too ill to drive. After he died, ITN hauled away the couple’s car on a flatbed truck. Mrs. Emmons received about $2,000, the car’s wholesale value, which went into her account.

Her Taurus was nicer than most other donated cars, so it will join the small fleet of ITN vehicles. ITN sells donated vehicles it doesn’t need.

Mrs. Emmons uses ITN to go to the doctor’s office or to buy groceries. On average, $7 to $8 is deducted from a user’s account for each ride. She receives discounts for scheduling her rides in advance and for sharing a ride with someone else.

The Portland idea is catching on. This year, pilot programs are being launched in Santa Monica, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Charleston, S.C.; and the Trenton, N.J., area.

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