Monday, July 20, 2009

Transit for the Disabled Endangered by Cuts

Salem Council On Aging 2009-07-20 016

The Salem News has finally caught on to the service cuts the MBTA proposed a few weeks ago.   This time, they’re focusing on cuts to The RIDE, the T’s paratransit service for people with disabilities.

The T would eliminate van service in Peabody, Beverly, Danvers, Wenham, Topsfield and Middleton.

This affects service to these communities, as well as from, so disabled riders in Salem aren’t in the clear.  Especially since Danvers and Peabody are big shopping, employment and medical areas.

One woman in Beverly is already affected by lack of van service.  Lois Gallo is a clinical social worker at Cummings Center.   She has The RIDE in Beverly, but wants to move to Ipswich.  Ipswich, as the result of a decision made years ago, is not in the MBTA system but is served by CATA (Cape Ann Transportation Authority).  CATA does not run van service to Ipswich.

I would note that under the proposed cuts, Ms. Gallo would not have van service at all.

Without the MBTA to run vans, service would either come from chair car services, which are very expensive for individuals, or from communities that run their own service for the elderly, as Salem, Peabody and surrounding communities do.

Governing Magazine recently ran an article, “The Costliest Ride” about paratransit services.

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a city of just over 150,000 people, almost half of the annual public transit budget doesn’t go for buses, or trolleys, or any newfangled light-rail system. It goes for vans—to provide mobility to disabled people who can’t use the regular vehicles. These riders receive curbside service outside their homes, and are dropped off at their destination of choice, at a cost to Sioux Falls of $25.61 per trip. Every sizable city has some version of this program. It’s called paratransit.

And it’s a piece of the public transportation puzzle that’s often forgotten—by everyone except transit agencies and those who depend on the service. The agencies can’t ignore paratransit because they’re legally obliged to provide it under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But it’s hugely expensive. Sioux Falls’ cost per trip is actually lower than most—a one-way ride for a single disabled person costs more than $30 in many places. While most big cities don’t spend as much proportionately as Sioux Falls, it’s common for a transit agency to devote 10 percent or more of its operating budget to paratransit. And the fares normally cover less than 10 percent of the costs.

It’s a necessary service, but a very expensive one for cities and towns to provide.  This is why I’ve been so insistent that our new senior center be on a bus line and accessible to public transit, whether was at the old St. Joseph’s Church or at the Boston St. site.  Despite our best intentions, it’s an expensive service.  When I went to the Council on Aging earlier this afternoon to take the picture that leads this blog, all five of their vans were parked.  I can only assume we can’t afford to keep them moving at all times, what with drivers, gas and the many other expenses that come with a vehicle fleet.

If the MBTA takes themselves out of the picture due to budget cuts, the cities and towns could not possibly pick up the slack, and our vans won’t be running any more often than they do now..

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