Elders to MBTA: ‘Don’t create more shut-ins’


alnorman_headshotBy Al Norman

On Dec. 14 2015, elder rights groups, including Mass Home Care, testified at an MBTA hearing in Boston against a plan to cut The RIDE services for the elderly and disabled.

For these riders, transportation is the key service that connects them to all the other services in the community: doctors’ offices, clinics, professional services, lawyers, grocery stores, basic shopping, etc. Transportation is the lifeline service in the community.

The MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board was considering whether or not to eliminate service for The RIDE for any so-called “premium” trips—those more than 3/4 mile from a bus or train line. The word “premium” makes it sound like these are non-essential trips, or some kind of luxury service. Nothing could be further from the truth. For those elders and disabled people who happen to live outside the ¾ mile limit—The RIDE is a necessary essential mode of transport. We bring hundreds of thousands of meals into people’s homes—but we cannot bring doctors and other professionals into the homes of the elderly.

In parts of the state outside of the MBTA service area, our seniors rely on local or regional “demand-response” transportation that picks them up at their door, and returns them again after their office visit or grocery shopping. If the MBTA takes The RIDE off the road, we will lose more than 210,000 trips that not only links elders to needed services but also reduces isolating those who live in their own homes but can no longer drive on their own. These elders may have given up their cars—but they should not be sentenced to imprisonment in their homes simply due to frailty. Residents in parts of at least 35 communities will fall into the “No RIDE Zone.”

It was painful enough for seniors to cope with the doubling of The RIDE fares in 2012—from $2 to $4 and $5. A one way trip went from $2 to $4, and a new $5 fare for “premium” trips and late-scheduled trips was introduced. The demand-response riders were burdened with a higher percentage rate hike than the fixed routes.

You’ve heard the term “shut-ins.” Well, no senior wants to be called a “shut-in,” but that’s exactly what the MBTA will be creating if they put the brakes on “premium rides.” Only people who are certified by the Transportation Authority (MBTA or RTA) are eligible for The RIDE. Since October of 2012, eligibility for RIDE customers has required an in-person assessment by the MBTA. So elders don’t get this service unless they need it.

Last November, the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board began reviewing options to cut The RIDE budget. On the list of cutbacks was a proposal to eliminate “premium” rides. People within ¾ of a mile of a bus or train route would not be affected. Only those people further out—the ones most at risk of being stranded in their apartments – would be affected. Most of these people are poor, many on Masshealth. They have no alternative transit service. They can’t afford cabs, or wheelchair vans. They do not have family or friends to drive them. If they lose The RIDE, they may skip a doctor’s visit, and end up being driven to the ER in an ambulance instead—just what health care reformers and taxpayers of this state are trying to discourage.

In a perfect world, everyone might be able to use the fixed route system. The very people who need the MBTA the most–the disabled and the elderly–are the biggest losers if they slash The RIDE. They might as well lock seniors in their homes if they cut The RIDE. This would create a neighborhood of shut-ins for those who happen to live outside the invisible line. Use of The RIDE has plummeted by roughly 20 percent since fares were hiked in 2012.

A few years ago, the MBTA agreed to mitigate fare increases, and developed a means-tested fare pilot program, which began six months ago.  Elders urged the board to continue to seek solutions that keep elders and disabled people on the busses—and not to kick them to the curb.

At the Dec. 14 meeting, the MBTA Fiscal Management Board decided they did not have enough information on the proposed cut backs, and decided to continue to study the impact of the cut. So The RIDE’s premium program is not dead—but it could come back up in the future.

If it does, the message from seniors will grow louder: “We have enough shut-ins in Massachusetts. We don’t need to create more.”

Al Norman is the Executive Director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at 978-502-3794, or at info@masshomecare.org.