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DISABILITY ADVOCATES SEEK A FAIR RIDE

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The MBTA fare increases that went into effect on July 1 hit T riders with a 23 percent hike on average. That figure alone is a substantial leap, especially given that such increases come paired with service cuts rather than expansion. For seniors and disabled riders, the hikes are considerably steeper. Seniors and the disabled who are able to use the fixed-route T and bus system face a 40 percent increase on monthly passes, and a 67 percent increase on single rides.

But disabled riders who cannot access fixed-route services, and who rely on THE RIDE system, have seen their fare increased even more drastically: 100%.

To repeat, their fares have doubled, from $2 to $4 (and $5 within “premium” zones, to be phased in by October).

THE RIDE provides door-to-door transportation for people with physical, cognitive or mental disabilities who cannot otherwise use the general MBTA system, according to a doctor’s assessment.

Disability rights activists in Massachusetts and ally organizations such as the T Riders Union have been organizing and protesting against these severe fare increases on RIDE service since they were first proposed last year. Under the January 2012 twin scenarios proposed by the MBTA, disabled users of the RIDE would have faced either a fare increase to $4.50 per ride (125 percent increase) and a $12 premium fare under Scenario 1, or an increase to $3 each way (50 percent increase) and a $5 premium fare under Scenario 2.

In May, following the announcement of the hike breakdown, several activists chained their wheelchairs together across Beacon Street at the Statehouse to call on Governor Patrick to veto the fare proposal.

A June amendment submitted by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston) would have limited fare increases on disabled riders, seniors, and young students to no more than the average fare increase (that is, 23 percent).

Chang-Díaz’s amendment was rejected by voice vote, so no record was kept as to which senators voted in favor or against the proportionate increase measure.

At a recent Statehouse hearing, disability rights organizers decried the fare increases as discriminatory and unnecessarily burdensome on disabled riders. “If someone would have said to me twenty years ago that this would happen in Massachusetts, I would say no way,” said John Robinson, a resident of Somerville who is visually impaired. “The hikes are discriminatory because they are disproportionate.”

Another organizer, Brian Shea, who uses a wheelchair, insisted that, “We’re at the wrong end of things economically, along with students and other folks who rely on common transportation. We get everything done using the RIDE — to go to our jobs, to take our son to the doctor or basketball or karate class or Hebrew School.”

Testimony highlighted the choices such steep increases would force many disabled riders and their families to make: the vast majority of individuals with a disability are unable to work, with less than 20 percent of disabled individuals holding jobs nationwide and nearly half of them being over 65 years old.

Disabled organizers and their allies recognize that the RIDE, just as the rest of the system, is in need of restructure and reform, including fare increases. Program costs for the RIDE have tripled since 2003, and ridership has increased just as rapidly over the past decade.

Jonathan Gale, of the Disability Law Center, emphasizes how heavily RIDE increases will weigh on disabled riders.

“By raising fares so high, you’re taking away these people’s ability to use the RIDE for what it’s intended. The RIDE is intended to allow people who have a disability the freedom of mobility.”

“By raising the fares, you’re making it cost prohibitive for the many, many disabled people who are on fixed incomes. You’re making people who have a disability choose whether or not they can go to the places they have to go, like to the doctor or the grocery store.”

He gives an example. “If you are on a fixed income of $1000 a month, assume you don’t go anywhere else on the RIDE except to dialysis three times a week. Before the July 1 increases, your dialysis trips were $12 a week, $52 a month. That’s 5 percent of your income. Now, under the new system, you’re going through at least 10 percent of your income, just to go to dialysis. Forget going anywhere else. And if it were within the premium service area, it could be 13 percent of your income or more. Most people can’t fathom this.”

For many disabled riders who have organized around the fair increases, the core issue is proportionality. “We understand that there has to be some increase,” says Gale. “But you’re hitting us twice as hard as the rest of the community, when the average increase is 23 percent and disabled riders got a 100 percent hike. It is proportionately just not fair.”

One of the MBTA’s explicit objectives, as reflected in its fare policy, is to establish equitable fares that “take into account the needs of various populations.” Many disabled patrons of the RIDE wonder whether recent increases reflect such a lofty aim.

About SHAWN MUSGRAVE

Shawn is a contributing writer and photographer in [perpetual] need of a good nap.
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