The MBTA could trim as much as $46 million from the budget for The Ride, the service which gives subsidized lifts to people with disabilities, a MassDOT leader said Monday.
Options for cutting costs for the service include boosting fares for disabled Ride users from $3 to up to $4.20, which at double the cost of a bus ticket would be the highest fare allowed by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, according to Michael Lambert, MassDOT’s deputy administrator.
Lambert stressed that there is no proposal on the table to hike fares by that much, and that he was presenting the MBTA’s fiscal and management control board with the most extreme options at their disposal to rein in costs.
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Right now, the T does more for disabled riders than required by federal law, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.
“It is still an appropriate question to ask whether the MBTA, given its current cost structure and customer performance, should in fact be the entity to provide paratransit beyond that which is required by the [ADA],” she said.
Other ideas currently being tested in pilots include allowing Ride users to take state-subsidized rides in taxis or via ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft (for those whose wheelchairs can fit) and training Ride users to ride buses and trains with free or reduced-cost passes, Lambert said. He added that those options also give riders more flexibility than the Ride, which requires users to book lifts far in advance.
The state could also legally cease offering the Ride outside a federally mandated coverage area, he said.
Other transit options, for example regional transit authorities or the state’s Human Service Transportation, are cheaper than The Ride, Pollack said.
Making all those changes would theoretically cut the Ride budget to $62 million in 2017, Lambert said, down from a projected $108 million. The Ride cost $97 million last year.
Subsidizing the Ride costs the state $46.88 per trip, compared with $2.07 for MBTA rides system-wide, according to a report. Riders pay $3 to use the service, or $5 for “premium” trips.
Before the T board heard about its options, many Ride users testified about how important the service is even though it’s expensive to operate.
“The Ride is a vital transportation service,” said Anne Stewart, 91, of the Mass. Senior Action Coalition. “It is a lifeline for thousands. ... It connects people to doctors, grocery stores, jobs and the community.”
The Ride serves about 2.1 million users per year or 7,000 per day, according to a report.
The T board has also begun talking about the possibility of system-wide fare increases for July, 2016 by 5 or possibly 10 percent.
“This fare increase will affect so many people in our communities,” said Pamela “Mela” Bush-Miles, lead organizer for the Dorchester-based Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, who said rising rents have already put enough pressure on her neighbors. “We should be able to not be forced out of our communities and be unable to afford getting on the MBTA. It is a public right and a human right to be able to get from point A to point B and go to work.”