Saturday, December 12, 2015

Guest Post- Governor Baker and the MBTA Giving Disabled and Elders an Unfair RIDE: Getting us all back on board

Photo Credit: John Phelan https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Ride,_Lexington_MA.jpg
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 25 seconds. 

Olivia Richard is a disabilities advocate and Boston native who has worked extensively with MBTA commissions to ensure continued accessibility of the MBTA services

The RIDE. It's the public transportation lifeline for people with all kinds of disabilities in the Greater Boston and Eastern Massachusetts area. It is a system that is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow people like myself who cannot use regular MBTA public transit because of disability some or all of the time to fully engage, experience, and enjoy living in our communities. The MBTA has made leaps and bounds in increasing accessibility to the "regular" system (it's officially called the Fixed Route system), but for a lot of us, our disabilities are too severe, our homes and group homes are too far for us to walk, roll, and wait in the heat or cold or sun for a bus or the T to get where we need to go, or the nursing home we have to live in mandates we have to use the RIDE to go places for their liability and insurance reasons. Since the beginning of the RIDE a few decades ago, the MBTA has done the just and fair thing by covering the ENTIRE MBTA service area, from Topsfield in the north all the way down to Sharon in the south, from Concord in the west all the way to Swampscott and Marblehead in the east, regardless of how far a person lives or has a destination from a bus or T stop. 
In June 2012, the MBTA began implementing draconian policies, backed by their rubber-stamping Accessibility Advisory Committee to the T (AACT). These changes included establishing an in-person assessment for eligibility as a requirement of being allowed to use the RIDE (which involves, I KID YOU NOT, being forced to walk around the TREC parking lot to see how far you physically can walk/roll, in a seeming 9 am to 5 pm perpetual parade of the disabled), a fairly arbitrary conditional/unconditional category system that puts conditions and prerequisites that are required to be met before some people are allowed to schedule a trip on the RIDE (such as certain weather conditions, times of year, destinations, etc), a 150 percent fare hike per ride for RIDE users, and the establishment of the Premium Fare Zone, which is any starting point or destination that is more than 3/4 of a mile from a bus or MBTA rapid transit stop (not including the commuter rail). 

Premium zone rides are more expensive, and the T can invoke a Premium fare even if the person is within the mandated ADA zone if someone needs a ride on the same day as the ride is scheduled (less than 24 hours before the trip is needed) or if the time of the ride needs to be adjusted on the same day. This typically happens if someone's Doctor is running late, or if they need a ride to a specialist same-day because they are in need of urgent care. There are a few other things that the MBTA put into place such as a no-show/late-cancellation policy that suspends people from using the RIDE for a period of time who don't show up for their rides or have to cancel rides last-minute. 
Now, with the Fiscal Control Board that Governor Baker put into place, our ability to get out and enjoy life is being restricted even further. The Board has proposed removing the Premium fare zone altogether from service. This restricts ALL trips on the RIDE to start and end within a point that is NO FURTHER THAN 3/4 of a mile from a regular bus or MBTA Green, Red, Orange, Blue, or Silver Line stop. This would cut the service area down only to those communities that are closest to Boston, and leave a large service void that would leave people with disabilities and the elderly stuck where they are. It would also eliminate access to same-day trips that are most typically used for urgent care and unexpected events, and leave people behind if they need to adjust their travel times unexpectedly. This is inherently unfair, because it ONLY hurts the most vulnerable people who have shown to the MBTA in their assessment and parking lot parade performance that they're unable to use the regular system some or all of the time. This decision vote will happen on Monday (12/14), and it has not been vetted by any disability group nor the MBTA's own internal disabilities specialists. This has come from Governor Baker and Secretary Stephanie Pollack, and the Fiscal Control board is widely expected to pass it. We are scared, frustrated, angry, and disappointed with the Governor and the MBTA. We have gone through a lot. This change would impact a wide swath of folks, and judging by the fact that last year alone there were 210,000 Premium fare trips, the need is real! 

Please call Governor Charlie Baker at (617) 725-4005 or toll-free at (888)-870-7770 here in Massachusetts, (413) 784-1200 if you live in Western Mass and want to reach that specific constituents office, and his Washington DC office at (202) 624-7713 to let him know this is a bad decision for all of us!

To send an email to the Governor's office, follow this link here.