The MBTA Is Considering Scaling Back The Cost To Use The RIDE

Advocates have long argued that the price increase in 2012 was too much.

Photo via Massachusetts Senior Action Council

Photo via Massachusetts Senior Action Council

All of the protests, sit-ins, and days of risking arrest by blocking off streets near the State House may have paid off for elderly and disabled riders that rely exclusively on the MBTA’s paratransit service to get around.

During the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Audit and Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, MBTA Strategic Initiatives Senior Director Charles Planck detailed a plan to reduce the cost to take The RIDE—a door-to-door service that picks up and drops off customers—by $1.

“We Did It! After more than two years of fighting for paratransit equity…the MBTA plans to recommend a rollback of fares for The RIDE,” a group known as the Massachusetts Senior Action Council wrote on their Facebook page following the discussion.

The group said dropping the price from $3 to $4 is a significant step forward for seniors and disabled users, but lots of work still needs to be done in order to create equity among riders.

The Massachusetts Senior Action Council consistently pushed for change over the last year with the help of the Public Transit-Public Good Campaign, Boston Center for Independent Living, and Community Labor United. They staged protests outside of Governor Deval Patrick’s office, hunkered down on the steps of the State House, and even volunteered to chain themselves up on Beacon Hill, blocking access to car traffic, which led to several arrests.

The MBTA raised the price of The RIDE in 2012 to off-set operating costs. The price to use the system doubled, putting many seniors on a fixed income at a disadvantage because they couldn’t afford the steep increase.

Use of The RIDE quickly decreased dramatically when the price went up, as seniors claimed they could no longer afford it, and were often forced to choose between things like paying for medications or buying groceries, based on their limited financial resources.

Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, said others forfeited seeing family, and trips to the doctor’s office.

But on Tuesday, following the proposal  put out by the MBTA, the group claimed a small victory. “This is a big step forward. Not a final solution, but a big step forward. For a number of people this will bring some relief. Folks are clear this is not going to address the hardship for everyone, so we are looking at this as a first step, and a commitment to work for a more equitable and affordable solution for the long-term,” Villers said. “It’s a significant step. I think we had a small group of members able to be there today, and I think folks are feeling there is power when you come together as a community and continue to work together.”

While the news is good for elderly and disabled riders, Planck said that the fare reduction, if approved by the full MassDOT board at their next scheduled meeting, could have an negative impact on the agency’s overall budget, as revenue drops, and the demand to take The RIDE will likely increase.

Planck told the Audit Committee that he was unaware of the exact financial impact the price cut could have, but it could reach close to $1.5 million. The MassDOT Board of Directors will vote on the recommendation at their next meeting on December 11. If the board votes in favor of the proposal, the price change would take effect in January 2014.