Just over a year after raising them, the MBTA is now seeking to drop fares for the RIDE paratransit service from $4 to $3, an agency financial officer told a state transportation department committee Tuesday.
MBTA Strategic Initiatives Senior Director Charles Planck told MassDOT’s Board’s Audit and Finance Committee that the T will put the fare reduction before the full MassDOT Board of Directors at its Dec. 11 meeting. The RIDE is a door-to-door service available for people with disabilities.
The announcement was greeted by scattered cheers from transit access advocates in the audience. Lower fares have been a goal of transit activists since the T raised the price of the RIDE from $2 to $4 in 2012.
About 60 percent of respondents to a state survey measuring the impact on the 2012 hikes on elders reported this year that they make fewer transit trips, while a majority of RIDE users whose income is less than $2,000 per month said they cut back on food, personal grooming and transit trips.
Earlier this month, transit advocates and seniors called on lawmakers to provide relief from paratransit fare hikes, saying the increases had left people choosing between travel and other necessities. Arlington Sen. Ken Donnelly ripped the RIDE fare increases as a “targeted fare hike at a vulnerable population.”
On Tuesday, Planck said the move will have an impact on the agency’s budget as revenue will drop and demand is expected to rise as the RIDE becomes more affordable. Planck was unsure of the move’s exact impact on the T’s budget due to new service contracts with providers.
“We expect to get the best price the market can bear,” Planck said.
When asked by board chairman John Jenkins about the annualized impact of altering RIDE fares, Planck estimated $1.5 million in reduced revenue per year and a $3 million to $4 million annual revenue loss overall when including operations costs.
“We believe right now that we’ll be able to accommodate this change in the budget approved by the board,” MBTA CFO Jonathan Davis told the panel.
At the meeting, Massachusetts Senior Action Council Executive Director Carolyn Villers called the fare reduction “a big step towards more affordable and equitable” service and said her group is looking forward to working with the MBTA and on other long-term solutions.
After the meeting, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott told reporters the fare agreement was the result of the work of a task force made up of MassDOT officials, transit advocates and the business community.
Scott said she thinks there would be benefits to introducing means testing for riders to help determine discounts, but that the MBTA is not in a position to evaluate incomes. Asked if other state agencies would be in better positions to aid the MBTA at means testing, Scott said she had discussed the issue with the health and human services officials and any possible means testing scenario would have to wait.
Under a new law, the MBTA may raise its overall fares by up to 5 percent next year.