T expands Uber, Lyft paratransit options

In test, customers offered more convenience at less cost

THE MBTA SAID ON TUESDAY it is expanding its paratransit relationship with the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in a bid to offer customers of The Ride more convenience and lower the T’s overall costs.

The transit authority tested the concept over the last five months with 400 RIDE customers, who as a group took 10,000 trips with Uber and Lyft. T officials say users were offered more convenience at less cost and the transit agency saved money, too.

With the ride-hailing apps, eligible customers with disabilities can call for service when they need it rather than having to schedule a day in advance. Uber and Lyft customers are also carried direct to their destination rather than being bundled with other riders. And the price to the user is generally less ($2 per trip plus any charges over $15) and the T’s average cost is far less ($46 with the traditional RIDE versus $9 with the ride-hailing apps).

During the five-month test, the number of traditional RIDE trips fell by 19 percent, while total trips (RIDE plus Uber and Lyft trips) increased by 28 percent. Even though the total number of trips increased, the T’s overall cost fell from $658,000 to $620,000, a decrease of 6 percent.

While RIDE customers are not required to use Uber and Lyft, the T is hoping the ride-sharing apps will catch on and help reduce costs. T officials say the RIDE program is running $10 million over budget this fiscal year.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who announced the ride-hailing apps would now be offered to all of the RIDE’s 30,000 customers during a press conference at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, said he witnessed the downside of regular RIDE service with interns in his office who used wheelchairs. He said they not only had to book with the RIDE a day in advance but often had to wait, sometimes for lengthy periods, for their ride to arrive. “The best part about this is it’s real time,” he said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Joshua Boissoneau, who participated in the RIDE’s experiment with Uber and Lyft, said it has made his life a lot easier. He does para-rowing in the morning and then goes to work at Spaulding Rehab. With the traditional RIDE system, he had to book rides in advance without knowing when his para-rowing practice would end. He said he was also frequently delayed when the traditional RIDE service would pick up multiple passengers.

T officials say about 80 percent of RIDE customers are ambulatory and the remaining 20 percent require wheelchair-accessible vehicles. T officials say Uber and Lyft are given some financial incentives to  make wheelchair-accessible vehicles available, but they noted the RIDE’s existing fleet of accessible vehicles is not going anywhere.