Proposed Cuts to MBTA Disability Services Pulled Back After Fierce Opposition

The past two weeks have seen the continuance of an ongoing debate regarding MBTA’s budgeting issues. Officials for the transit system receded last month’s proposal for a $7 million cut in services for the Ride—a door-to-door transportation network for disabled and senior citizens—after heavy protest from advocacy groups and riders alike.

“Given the size of the cost savings that is sought relative to the budget of the MBTA, I believe it is unconscionable and unfathomable that MBTA officials would target the most vulnerable population who have the least control over transportation options to achieve needed cost savings,” said Amy Ruell, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts.

The Ride was revealed to be $17 million over budget, adding to an already hefty debt carried by the Massachusetts transit system overall. Over recent months, Gov. Charlie Baker has pushed for reducing costs and has sought guidance from outside his office on how to best do it. In early March, an MBTA oversight board pitched a year-long suspension of premium trips to those requiring travel outside the three-quarter mile radius mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The pursuit of that plan was put on hold last week after the protests, as long as alternative methods for reducing costs were sought.

“I think there’s a lot of work to do in reining in the costs of The Ride,” said Brian Lang of the oversight board. “[But] I would suggest that we work with the stakeholders in doing that.”

Those who are opposed to cuts to The Ride service insist that alternative methods have already been found and are effective. The Massachusetts Senior Action Council, the Boston Center for Independent Living and the Bay State Council for the Blind released a joint statement on Tuesday, April 4, citing programs they helped implement. As part of a Ride task force, these groups pushed for a pilot initiative utilizing Uber and Lyft to provide on-demand services; they also centralized a control/dispatch center to minimize inefficiencies.

“The MBTA itself projects that between the Centralized Call Center and the pilots that The Ride will see a budget reduction from the projected FY17 expenses of $109 million to $94 million in FY18 without further cuts,” the joint statement said. “This is an aggressive budget reduction but one that the MBTA is confident can be achieved based on the work we have done to date.”

Despite this, Gov. Baker believes these groups have not put forward a proposal substantial enough to help fix the problem, saying, “Look, it’s not fair to the taxpayers… to not be willing to pursue and engage in discussions about ways to continue to deliver the service and find a more effective and efficient way to do it.”

“We believe that the Governor has clearly been misinformed about the role community organizations like ours have played for many years,” the groups responded in the joint statement. “Our goal has always been to help the MBTA lower the cost of The Ride program without unnecessarily disrupting the lives of Massachusetts’s seniors and disabled residents, some of the state’s most vulnerable communities… Our priority will always be to ensure that policymakers can hear directly from the seniors and people with disabilities who will be impacted by their decisions.”

Zach Mobrice is an intern at Spare Change News. A native of Rhode Island, Zach studies journalism at Roger Williams University.

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