MBTA to subsidize ride-sharing for people with disabilities

Uber and Lyft will soon receive subsidies from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency to expand their services to riders with disabilities, under a one-year pilot project announced September 16.

“We want to meet the needs of our customers to help them get to where they are going efficiently and that is why we are increasing investments in the core transit system and introducing innovative options for our paratransit customers,” Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said in a news release. “This pilot takes a major step toward providing the kind of flexibility, responsiveness and on-demand customer service that has been the focus of our reforms, and that our paratransit riders deserve.”

As required by federal law, the MBTA currently provides a door-to-door paratransit service, known as the Ride, for qualified people with disabilities. The service, which must be booked 24 hours in advance, charges riders $3 per ride, while the MBTA pays an average of $45 to subsidize each trip.

With the new agreement, riders will pay $2, while the MBTA will subsidize up to $13 per ride. The rest will be left to the customer.

Lyft will also provide a call center for people who lack access to a smartphone.

Uber and Lyft have both faced extensive criticism for failing to provide a sufficient number of accessible vehicles, among other acts of disability discrimination. This partnership, the first of its type in the nation, may reflect a new trend toward increased collaboration between disability advocates and the booming ride-share industry.

“Independent, reliable transportation is critical for people with disabilities to get to work, school or other community activities on time,” said Dave Power, president and CEO of the Perkins School for the Blind, in the news release. “Para-transit riders can now access the same on-demand services enjoyed by people without disabilities – bringing us another step closer to inclusive public transportation.”