Saturday, March 10, 2012

In Boston, disabled people fear T’s plans for changes in The Ride

from The Boston Globe:

BRAINTREE, Mass. - Penny Shaw (pictured), a former teacher with a doctorate in French literature, was 58 when a series of falls brought her to the hospital with what doctors would diagnose as a rare neuromuscular condition.

After five bedridden years, Shaw recovered enough to venture from her nursing home in a power wheelchair. Now she goes out a few times a week - to see friends, attend meetings, visit the library - using The Ride, the MBTA’s door-to-door service for the disabled.

But changes in the service that have been proposed as part of the T’s broader deficit-cutting plan would drive up the $4 round-trip cost for Shaw and thousands of others to between $6 and $24, prices that some say would keep them homebound.
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“I think I’m in denial; I can’t tell you what I would do,’’ said Shaw, who says her $72.80 monthly income quickly disappears on dental care, cellphone minutes, and Ride trips. “I’m actually feeling a little desperate that my quality of life and my ability to get out into the community is about to be destroyed.’’

State officials acknowledge the plight of Shaw and others but wrestle with inexorable numbers: Over the past decade, usage of The Ride doubled, and cost quadrupled - with more riders and rising gas prices - to roughly 2.5 million annual trips and $114 million.

Although The Ride accounts for less than 1 percent of all trips provided by the MBTA, it consumes nearly 10 percent of the T’s operating budget. And the trend shows no sign of abating, with the population aging.

“It’s a budget buster,’’ said Richard A. Davey, the secretary of transportation.

Transit agencies nationwide are grappling with the same issue. The T and its peers are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide taxi-style service to those unable to use conventional buses, subways, and trolleys.

At more than $40 per one-way trip, The Ride ranks in the middle of the pack nationally on per-trip cost. But ridership is much higher per capita in Massachusetts than in other regions, according to T statistics.

Advocates, customers, and officials say that is partly because the T operates a nationally recognized program providing fuller service than most. But users fear it will be pared back to federal minimums.

Federal law requires service be provided only for people living within three quarters of a mile of a rapid transit station or bus stop and only when buses or trains are running. It also allows fares for services such as The Ride at double the lowest subway or bus fare.

But the T offers The Ride to anyone living in a town with even one bus stop, a roughly 700-square-mile area, and charges $2 each way, same as the cash subway fare. The Ride operates from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.