PORTLAND — A nonprofit service that offers inexpensive car rides to older or visually impaired Cumberland County residents is expected to hit a milestone this week.

ITNPortland is just a few rides away from offering its 250,000th ride.

ITNPortland is part of the 16-year-old Independent Transportation Network, or ITNAmerica, which started out as a graduate project at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. It has grown into a national transportation system for older people who want to stop driving without losing their independence.

The network was founded by Katherine Freund after her young son was hit by an 84-year-old driver. Freund figured older drivers would be more willing to give up driving when they could no longer do so safely if they had better transportation options.

Bob Dunfey, executive director, predicts the 250,000th rider will surface sometime Thursday. That rider will receive a year’s worth of free rides and the $40 annual membership fee will be waived. An average ITNPortland ride costs about $11, a bargain compared to private taxi service, especially for riders living outside Portland, Dunfey said.

Members are charged a $4 pick-up fee each way and $1.50 a mile.

The network operates with eight paid drivers and 45 volunteer drivers. Dunfey said riders use the service to get to and from hair appointments, doctor visits and other destinations.

“It’s like having your own chauffeur,” said Norma Anderson of Portland.

Anderson gave up her car a year ago after two minor fender benders.

“I decided I should before minor turned into major,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who described herself as somewhere around 80, said giving up her car when the lease ran out also made financial sense. She put only 3,700 miles on the car during its three-year lease. Her farthest trip was to the Walmart store in Falmouth.

She said she has to plan more without the car but she is saving her children a lot of anxiety.

On Sunday, Anderson was picked up outside her Northfield Green apartment by volunteers Kim and Jeff Savage of Portland, who provided a ride to the Easter service at Woodfords Congregational Church.

The Savages have volunteered with ITNPortland every holiday for the past 10 years. She does the driving, and he opens the doors.

Jeff Savage, who is visually impaired, said ITNPortland made it possible for him to get to work at one point.

“This is an easy thing to do,” Kim Savage said.

The car service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for any type of ride to people 65 years old or adults with visual impairments. ITNPortland has about 650 riders and provides about 16,000 rides a year.

Dunfey said the service is always looking for volunteers, who typically contribute a block of time to provide rides once a week. He said the service is trying to grow to about 2,000 members.

ITNAmerica includes 19 affiliates in 10 states.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]