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AP News

Disabled Mass. transit riders protest fare hike

BOSTON (AP) — Blind, disabled and elderly mass transit riders lashed out Monday at what they called unfair and disproportionate fare hikes, saying the increases could prevent many people from getting to work, buying food or visiting their doctors.

About a dozen activists, including several in wheelchairs, staged a memorial at the Mass. Statehouse for what they said was the loss of affordable public transit service and their own freedom to get around.

Under the new Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority fare structure that went into effect on Sunday, fares for The Ride, the MBTA's door-to-door service for people with disabilities, increased 100 percent, from $2 to $4. The average fare increase for all other services, including buses, subways and commuter trains, was 23 percent.

Boston resident Karen Schneiderman, who uses a wheelchair, said the disabled have been "singled out."

"Many of us have a fixed income or live on Social Security or disability, so many of us are the least able to pay the amount of money that they have imposed upon us," she said.

Schneiderman and other protesters read from dozens of messages sent by other riders, some of whom said they were unable to attend the Statehouse event because they couldn't afford the higher fares and would be kept from activities such as visiting friends, seeing their doctors, volunteering or attending Bible study.

State transportation officials said they regretted the impact of the fare hikes on disabled riders but were left with few options because the fares cover only a tiny fraction of what the service costs.

"Unfortunately, the reality of paratransit is that revenue is about $3 million and it costs about $100 million to run (The Ride)," state Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said.

Davey said officials were exploring other options, including greater use of taxi vouchers for the disabled. He also noted that the MBTA agreed to delay until Oct. 1 an even steeper increase to $5 for The Ride users who live beyond the area that the T is legally required to service.

Monday's protest was not the first attempt by activists to persuade Gov. Deval Patrick and state lawmakers to use their clout to rescind the fare hikes. Last month, several people blocked traffic for nearly an hour in front of the Statehouse by chaining their wheelchairs together in the street. In April, a group briefly disrupted state budget debate in the House of Representatives by loudly demanding more funds for public transportation.

Schneiderman said Monday that disabled passengers were only seeking the same percentage increase being paid by other MBTA passengers but had been "ignored."

Transit officials, meanwhile, said there appeared to be no major problems with implementation of the fare hikes, the first on the MBTA in five years.

A software glitch in the MBTA's corporate pass program was unrelated to the hike in fares, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Monday. The problem, which kept some card holders from being able to smoothly transfer from commuter rail trains to buses or subways, was corrected late in the day, he said.

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