A car accident forced Gloria Reinish of Emerson to stop driving her car at 90 but it didn't mean the biomedical engineering professor was going to stop teaching.
"They’re wonderful, they’re lifesavers. I don’t know what I would do without them," Reinish said of The Independent Transportation Network of North Jersey, headquartered in Wyckoff. "My schedule is quite complicated. I'm in a different building everyday. But they got to know my schedule better than me."
The Independent Transportation Network of North Jersey (ITNNorthJersey) was launched in June 2015 to address a growing population of seniors needing lifts.
Mary Lyons-Kim started the non-profit with her brother-in-law John Boswick and their friend Kate Surgent.
"All three of us had widowed moms with transportation issues. We saw the need for this," Lyons-Kim said, noting it's the first affiliate program in the state, the main branch being ITNAmerica in Maine.
It took three years to get the business funded and running, with initial startup money coming from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and Teaneck-based Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation.
There has been a waiting list for rides since they launched. The 67 volunteer drivers aren't nearly enough to fulfill the demand.
"I'm the original volunteer. I was here before the cars were moving," said Ronne Bassman-Agins of Fort Lee. "I was on the steering committee and helped with fundraising."
Bassman-Agins, 72, is happy to offer time driving, an area of volunteerism she wanted to do after once needing a ride herself for a procedure.
Membership with ITNNorthJersey costs $90 a year and is open to anyone over age 60 or who is legally blind and over age 21. Members pay $1.50 per mile when they're driven around, and no tipping is allowed.
"Some pockets of Bergen have such long waiting lists. We are always recruiting for volunteer drivers, especially in areas on the east side of Route 17," Lyons-Kim said.
Costs work out about the same as app-based ridesharing services like Uber, but offer personalized, arm-to-arm assistance.
"Seniors in their 80s and 90s aren't using smart phones. They also like the personalized service, sitting up front with our drivers and sharing stories," Lyons-Kim said. "Their kids are relieved too because they know their parents are safe."
She said some members are ill and their standing appointments are dialysis or chemo. The companionship is as important as the ride.
"I took a couple to the movies. Another woman I took to her granddaughter's third birthday party," Bassman-Agins said. "It makes my day because I know I made theirs."
The service runs 24/7 but members have to book a ride 24 hours in advance.
Volunteer drivers are being actively recruited in the Fort Lee, Englewood, Teaneck and Pascack Valley areas. Drivers must pass a driving and criminal background check and undergo training.
Volunteer Andrea Cagny, 62, of Ridgewood said she is finding the experience rewarding and interesting.
"I love the people I drive and they're so appreciative," Cagny said. "We're all going to get to an age where we might have to make a decision to park the car. This is personable. It's different. It makes the decision easier."
Drivers can volunteer as much or as little as they desire and choose the jobs they want. A stipend of 30 cents a mile is offered and can be taken as a check, donated back to the company's scholarship fund or even given to a loved one in NJ with a membership or another state where an affiliate program exists.
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