A cooperative could solve transportation problems that older Sussex County residents face. The program would follow a national model to provide rides for a suggested $1 per mile for seniors throughout the county.
By 2030, an estimated 35 percent of the county's population will be 65 years of age and older, and among those people, three times more than today will be at least 85 years old.
The number of older Sussex residents will be at least 10 percent higher than state and national averages.
The aging Sussex population brings with it a host of transportation concerns, said retired Millsboro educator Nancy Feichtl during the May 6 Sussex County Council meeting. Some older drivers, who lose their licenses because of health issues or voluntarily stop driving, have a hard time finding rides for routine chores and appointments. Some rely on family members while others pay for private services.
Some older drivers are forced to get behind the wheel because they have no choice, Feichtl said. “Some want to ease out of driving, but they don't know what to do,” she said.
Feichtl said in Sussex County, public transportation is not an option for many.
“For example, there are no bus routes where I live,” she said. “And cutbacks in paratransit service are decreasing service.”
The average senior lives 10 years beyond their driving years, into their mid-80s, while women live 12 years beyond their driving years, Feichtl said.
“The hardest conversation you will have with a parent is not about a funeral, but when it's time to quit driving. It's all about dignity,” Feichtl said.
“Under this program, people can give up driving gracefully. They are not taking a gift, and that allows for some dignity.”
Affiliation with national program
The Sussex Senior Transportation Cooperative would be an affiliate of Independent Transportation Network America.
The nonprofit agency known as ITN Southern Delaware would have its own dispatchers, office, director and volunteer drivers.
“We are not reinventing the wheel; this is not a start-up business,” Feichtl said. She is optimistic the cooperative can get on the road by the spring of 2015 in at least part of the county.
Following the national model, the Sussex program would charge members a $25 lifetime membership fee and then charge $1 per mile for trips. She said it's estimated the average Sussex trip would cost about $10 or $11.
All riders would set up accounts in advance so no money would be exchanged between drivers and riders. Volunteer drivers could bank or transfer miles for future use. Members could also get credit for donating their cars for cooperative use or for resale.
Feichtl said three hubs would be set up to cover every part of the county: Lewes-Rehoboth Beach; Millsboro-Long Neck; and Seaford-Laurel. Most trips are needed for medical appointments and shopping, Feichtl said.
Program seeks $100,000
Feichtl said in order to get the cooperative off and running, about $100,000 is needed; she asked Sussex County for $35,000 to cover franchise fees. “That way we can affiliate immediately.
“Once we are up and running, the cooperative will be totally self-sufficient,” she said. Grants and private donations are being sought to get the cooperative on the road.
She is working with a six-member steering committee that will become part of a 13-member board of directors once the group receives nonprofit status.
Donations are coordinated through the Delaware Community Foundation.
It comes as no surprise that the coastal Sussex senior population aged 55 to 74 is high compared to the rest of the county: Bethany Beach, 49 percent; Ocean View, 43 percent; Millville, 37 percent; Lewes, 34 percent; Rehoboth Beach, 33 percent; and Milton, 24 percent. More than 9 percent of the Cape Region's population is 75 years of age or older.
Feichtl said it's estimated the senior population will increase from 41,000 in 2010 to 80,000 in 2030.
“Now is the time to get ahead of the curve,” she said.
For more information, contact Feichtl at 302-245-8979.