This week the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Board of Directors approved an MBTA plan to reduce fares for RIDE users from $4 per trip to $3 per trip. This is welcome news for tens of thousands of Massachusetts paratransit users who, in July 2012, saw RIDE fares double from $2 to $4. The summer 2012 hike in RIDE fares represented an increase of 100 percent compared to an only 23 percent increase for users of the MBTA’s regular bus and “T” service.
Not only were last year’s fare increases significantly higher for RIDE users than for users of the fixed route system, but RIDE users also feel the effects of fare increases more acutely. RIDE patrons are elderly and disabled, and the vast majority of them are unable to work and thus live on a fixed income. While it is true that all MBTA customers feel the sting of paying higher fares, fare increases are disproportionately burdensome for vulnerable RIDE users.
Following the 2012 fare increases, there was an immediate outcry from paratransit users and their advocates. The legislature responded by passing an amendment directing the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) and the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) to compile a report concerning the impacts of the fare increase on RIDE users. The results of the report were alarming. Over 60 percent of RIDE users reported taking fewer transit trips and a majority of RIDE users with monthly incomes below $2,000 reported that they needed to cut back on food and personal grooming costs. Perhaps most troubling was the revelation that one-fifth of RIDE users over 65 years old, and one-third of RIDE users under 65 years old, reported attending fewer medical appointments since the fare increase.
Since the release of the RIDE report in September, advocates, community members and elected officials have pointed to the results as proof that RIDE fare increases were too steep for elderly and disabled paratransit users to absorb. As co-chairs of the MBTA Legislative Caucus, we organized a briefing on October 22nd in which EOEA, MOD and the MBTA discussed the findings of the report with representatives and senators from the MBTA service area. During that briefing, legislators asked the MBTA to consider the outsized impact that fare hikes had on RIDE users. And the MBTA listened.
With the unveiling of its plans to reduce RIDE fares to $3 per trip, the MBTA has displayed a willingness to be responsive to the concerns of paratransit users, advocates, and elected officials. As public servants representing Arlington, Cambridge, Medford, Somerville and Winchester, and as co-chairs of the MBTA Legislative Caucus, we commend the MBTA for reconsidering the rates of paratransit fares and the MassDOT Board for swiftly approving the MBTA’s plan. The reduced RIDE fares will go into effect on January 6, 2014 and will alleviate the burden on more than 30,000 disabled transit users throughout the MBTA service area. The fare reduction is a great victory for RIDE users to celebrate this holiday season.
State Senator Patricia Jehlen represents the Second Middlesex District covering Somerville, Medford and parts of Cambridge and Winchester. She is a co-chair of the MBTA Legislative Caucus.
State Representative Sean Garballey represents the Twenty-third Middlesex District covering parts of Medford and Arlington and is also a co-chair of the MBTA Legislative Caucus.