Livable Communities Interview

5 Questions for Katherine Freund

An advocate explains how the transportation needs of older adults can be met if safe drivers of all ages would share a ride

Katherine Freund, founder of ITN America

Katherine Freund, founder and president of iTNAmerica. — Photo courtesy iTNAmerica

On average, men in the United States outlive their ability to drive by seven years. Women, who generally live longer than men, survive an additional decade beyond their driving years.

Since the majority of communities nationwide are not walkable and do not have comprehensive public transit options, being a nondriver can be a limiting, isolating and even health-endangering experience.

Case in point: More than 3 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because they lack a ride to the doctor.

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As a young mother in 1988, Katherine Freund learned firsthand that the transportation problems faced by older adults can have a direct impact on people of any age, including her then-toddler son, who was run over and seriously injured by an 84-year-old driver who didn't even realize he had nearly killed a child. (After years of extensive care the little boy did recover and is now a successful 30-year-old man.)

The tragedy inspired Freund to address the underlying cause of the incident, which stemmed in large part from the fact that, in the absence of other ways to get around, some older adults may continue to drive beyond their abilities to safely do so.

"Since three out of four older Americans live in rural and suburban communities that lack the density for traditional mass transit, most have limited transportation options that could otherwise help keep them safe and mobile," Freund, who is the founder and president of iTNAmerica, recently wrote in a blog post for Forbes. "Across this country, millions of people are struggling with this unmet need. There is hardly an American family, business or community member whose lives, safety or wallet has not been affected. Adult children miss work to drive a parent to health care; symphony orchestras lose season ticket holders who can’t drive at night; pharmacy chains lose older customers who once browsed for greeting cards and sugar-free candies while filling prescriptions; and churches face shrinking attendance."

With the boomer generation now in or entering their older years, Freund and iTNAmerica (as well as AARP and even the U.S. Department of Transportation) are stepping up efforts to shine a spotlight on the need for age-friendlier transportation solutions and options.

1.The iTN in iTNAmerica stands for Independent Transportation Network. Explain what the network is  — why it's needed, how it began and how it and the Rides in Sight service works.

ITNAmerica is a nonprofit transportation service that re-creates the comfort and convenience of private automobile ownership by offering door-through-door, arm-through-arm rides to older adults for any purpose, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

People who use the service become members and open a "Personal Transportation Account," which they can fund in a number of ways to pay for their rides. For instance, with our CarTrade program, a person can trade in their car when they no longer drive and receive transportation credits to "pay" for their iTN rides. Or someone can volunteer as a driver and store their transportation credits for their own future needs. ITNAmerica provides dignified transportation services to members through more than two-dozen iTN affiliates nationwide.

Rides in Sight is iTNAmerica’s toll-free hotline (855-607-4337) and searchable online database for senior transportation of any kind, anywhere in the United States.

Trained operators help locate local transportation resources for older adults or people with visual impairments. Whatever someone's needs — escorted service, a chair lift, a private car or public transportation options — Rides in Sight operators can help find the best local options. There are 15,000 transportation options in the Rides in Sight database.

2. In 2015, iTNAmerica launched two initiatives. The first was the #sharearide social media challenge. The second was called the Storybook Tour. Describe these two efforts.

The year 2015 [marked] the 20th anniversary of the first iTN ride in Portland, Maine. To celebrate and help raise awareness of the central role mobility plays in people's lives, [we] declared 2015 "the year to give an older person a ride."

It's so hard for someone who needs a ride to ask for it, even when not asking means missing a lot of life. We want drivers to look around and see who needs a lift, to offer that ride and — as part of the #sharearide campaign — to post a picture and maybe a story on iTNAmerica's Facebook page or their preferred social media platform.

The transportation capacity to meet the mobility needs of older Americans already exists through the empty seats in the cars we drive every day.

The Storybook Tour [was] a 60-day coast-to-coast road trip to meet people and share the stories of how mobility issues have changed their lives. I got involved in senior transportation because someone in my family had an accident involving an older driver — that's my story. But my story is one of millions of stories, because this issue — transportation for older people — touches every family in the nation.

We [kicked off] off the Storybook Tour in Portland, Maine, on June 16, 2015, which is 20 years to the day from the first Independent Transportation Network ride. Stories make the importance of safe senior mobility real, which hopefully inspire people in communities across America to be part of the solution. Anyone who has a story to tell can contact us through

Here are a few examples of stories we've gathered at iTN:

  • A retired psychologist used iTN rides so she could volunteer to read to people who are blind. She generally recited poetry for them and also read aloud the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

  • A champion rower used iTN to get to his boat on the river, where he loved to get behind the oars and row, even though he hadn't been able to drive safely for many years.

  • A member in Cincinnati has told us she's once again able to buy ice cream when she goes shopping because, since she now has an iTN ride, she can arrive home from the market before it melts.

Next page: Liability issues, local issues and ideal solutions. »

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