At Universal Hub, John A. Keith alerts us to the arrival of the MBTA's "Blue Book," which contains data on ridership for all of the T's stations and services.
What caught my eye was the section on The RIDE, which is a door-to-door van service for the elderly and disabled. Costs for the program are soaring with increased usage, and the Boston Globe recently reported that the RIDE eats up almost 10 percent of the T's budget while accounting for less than 1 percent of all service. (Disclosure: My parents in Malden, who can no longer drive a car, use the RIDE and are generally very happy with it.)
I was curious about which communities depend most on the RIDE, so I compared the Blue Book data to the latest Census population figures to come up with a per-capita measure. The top 10 cities and towns are listed below.
Winthrop isn't a huge surprise at No. 1, since it's a small peninsular town with no train service. I wonder whether a regularly scheduled (and publicized) shuttle service to get people on and off the finger of land would take some pressure off the RIDE, which is a taxi-like appointment service. Of course, the RIDE might also become more efficient as more of its users become adept with smartphones and can schedule needed trips with a few keystrokes instead of calling the T a day in advance. (I don't see any RIDE apps on the T's website yet.)
RIDE trips in 2010 per 10,000 residents
- Winthrop: 12,456 (Population: 17,497; Trips: 21,795)
- Revere: 12,371 (Population: 51,755; Trips: 64,028)
- Newton: 10,797 (Population: 85,146; Trips: 91,934)
- Brookline: 10,128 (Population: 58,732; Trips: 59,483)
- Swampscott: 9,716 (Population: 13,787; Trips: 13,395)
- Lynn: 9,701 (Population: 90,329; Trips: 87,628)
- Peabody: 9,557 (Population: 51,251; Trips: 48,891)
- Saugus: 8,819 (Population: 26,628; Trips: 23,482)
- Watertown: 8,697 (Population: 31,915; Trips: 27,756)
- Malden: 8,490 (Population: 59,450; Trips: 50,471)
About one-fourth of all RIDE trips originate in Boston, but the city ranks 13th in per-capita use (7,956 rides per 10,000 residents). This supports the theory that the biggest challenges in delivering social services are now in nearby suburbs rather than central cities.
It's also striking that none of the top 10 communities are south of Boston, though 17 of the 59 towns served by the RIDE are in that region. Quincy is the highest, at No. 11, but the three towns that use the RIDE the least are in the South: Dover, Medfield, and Cohasset. This may be because it's a relatively affluent area, but high-income Newton and Brookline use the RIDE service heavily. I wonder if there's a stigma attached to the RIDE vans in tony areas — one that doesn't apply in densely populated Newton and Brookline, where the vans are so frequent as not to be noticed.
Then again, RIDE usage may go up with positive word-of-mouth, which might account for its popularity in several neighboring North Shore communities, or there may be better alternatives provided by local governments in places with low RIDE usage. (Is that why the service is lightly used in Cambridge, where there were only 3,961 rides per 10,000 residents?)
Photo from the state's Commonwealth Conversations website.