In the early 1980’s virtually every community in Fairfield County except New Canaan provided transportation for the elderly and handicapped for medical and other needs. Nancy Nickerson, the founder of Barrier Free, a national organization to help the handicapped, led local efforts to provide this service to New Canaan residents.
The corporation, originally called The Friendship Express, was founded in December, 1980 (it was renamed GetAbout, Inc. in 1982). The founding group raised $20,000 themselves to purchase a Chevrolet van, which became GetAbout’s first service vehicle. Cooperation and support from the New Canaan Board of Selectmen allowed GetAbout to secure gas, oil and maintenance through town facilities at lesser cost. The van was put into service in May, 1981. Initially the service was limited to three days a week, and only within the boundaries of New Canaan. As funds allowed service was expanded to all five weekdays, and medical rides to nearby communities were supported.
Ridership was initially low, as the service sought to gain recognition and a reputation for reliability with its clientele. GetAbout grew by the efforts of its directors at the time, who would personally supplement the effort of the sole driver as needed, and by providing service to STAR and daycare children.
As the 1980’s ended GetAbout still relied on one van (in 1988 the original vehicle was replaced, but maintained for backup). In the early 1990’s, however, the organization was able to add an additional vehicle as it expanded its activity. Our pool of qualified drivers grew to meet the demands of additional riders. Still reliant principally on private donations, the Board ensured that sufficient cash to cover one year’s operations was maintained. As technology developed GetAbout began to use wireless telephone service to allow a full-time despatcher to communicate with drivers.
Through the next decades GetAbout grew with New Canaan and the needs of its senior and disadvantaged. Capacity continued to increase, to our current 7 vans. Financial controls, management reporting and vehicle management were all improved to ensure the most efficient use of our cash and personnel. During the pandemic, as ridership fell, we pivoted to help the community by stepping in to pick up delivery routes for Meals on Wheels.
Over the last 40 years GetAbout has grown from the dream of a few civic-minded New Canaanites to a vibrant organization providing more than 8,000 rides last year. The one used van that initiated the service 40 years ago has now grown to a fleet of 8 fully accessible vans on the road every weekday. Initially funded solely by those few New Canaanites, GetAbout now enjoys funding from local businesses, hospitals, churches and government organizations in addition to individual contributions.