T's Uber, Lyft partnership shows promise

a teacher and three students, one holding an iPhone, applaud and smile

Perkins School for the Blind students and faculty applaud the introduction of the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation on-demand paratransit pilot program

October 1, 2016

Journalism, when practiced with an edge, is an adversarial business. You make a fair amount of enemies. It’s rare when you find a true friend. But I found one a dozen years ago.

I’ve been thinking about her this week because when we got to know each other in 2004 on a bus from Worcester to Boston, she showed me in precise and painful detail what it’s like to navigate a world shrouded in darkness.

Emily Crockett had a golf-ball-sized brain tumor removed when she was just 6 years old. It robbed her of her eyesight, but she survived — and then thrived. I followed her through her freshman year at Harvard for a Globe series. That long-ago bus ride ended at South Station, where we boarded the Red Line to Harvard Square.

When the train pulled into Downtown Crossing, the public address system worked fine. Then it conked out. As the train poked along toward Harvard Square, Emily sat silently. I wondered whether to prompt her when we arrived at our stop. She paused briefly, nudged me, and announced: “We get off here.’’

She had learned not to rely on the T’s technological prowess. She had counted the stops. And she had found her way.

I have no doubt that Emily would have been a chief cheerleader of the MBTA’s new relationship with the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. Like other users, she found the T’s service for customers with disabilities — The Ride — to be something short of user friendly.

I have written critically of companies like Uber because they burst upon the scene in Boston without the strict regulations imposed on taxi companies, whose old-school lunch is being eaten by cool high-tech transportation firms.

But, as my 20-something kids remind me, to shake my fist at Uber and Lyft is like railing against the advent of color television or high-speed Internet. They’re here to stay. Deal with it.

The pilot with the MBTA is only days old, and already those cheers you hear are coming from people like Kim Charlson, executive director of the Perkins School for the Blind Braille and Talking Book Library in Watertown.

Read the full story in the Boston Globe »