Seven months after MBTA fare increases kicked in, travel on The Ride has declined more drastically than the 10.3 percent drop-off T officials predicted last March. Between July and December of 2012, registered passengers made 934,985 trips on The Ride, a 16.2 percent decrease from the same six-month period in 2011.
Seniors and disabled individuals say the jump in one-way fares from $2 to $4 has forced them to cut back on outings, spend more time at home, and in some instances, scrimp on life-sustaining trips such as grocery shopping and doctor visits.
As a Florida-hating, diehard city person*, one of my biggest fears is one day not being able to get around a big city on my own. The prospect is too depressing even for an episode of Louie. (Once he can't make it down those subway steps, the show is over.)
But I want to respond to the comments that always accompany online articles about The Ride, the ones that claim that the program is expensive because people abuse it. Whenever a social program costs a lot of money, the glib response is to say that the waste comes from fraud, and that we could save big bucks by kicking out the fakers.
I'm sure there are some Ride riders who shouldn't be eligible for the program, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that people with psychological rather than physical impairments should be banned. The Ride, however, is not a pleasure cruise.
After they couldn't drive anymore, my parents took the bus for a while, but now my dad can't make it down the steep hill to the bus stop without stopping to rest a couple of times. There's also the problem of folding up his walker to board a bus (and delaying all the passengers while the driver waits until it's safe to proceed). So now they take The Ride a couple of times a week, and I've been with them a couple of times as an accompanying guardian.
This means calling the night before to reserve a spot on a Ride van. It means you have to leave your house and then make your return trip at the MBTA's convenience — which means my mother, for example, might arrive at a hair salon one hour before her appointment and then leave one hour after her hair is done. (It's the same with doctors' appointments, of course.) It can also mean being on the Ride van as it goes all over the city picking up and dropping off other people.
And if you don't like making eye contact on the subway, stay away from The Ride, as it's tough to avoid the chatty (but hard-of-hearing) person sitting next to you, fretting about the price of prescription drugs as the driver of the van struggles to get another passenger on board with his wheelchair and oxygen tank.
The Ride is a great service, and my parents appreciate it enough not to complain (very much) about the fare increase. But it's not a luxury that attracts lazy people.
* See Ed Koch's reasonable and restrained comment: "Have you ever lived in the suburbs? It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they’ve seen New York! ... This rural American thing — I’m telling you, it’s a joke."
Photo from MBTA website.