At a press conference held Friday on the historic campus of Perkins School for the Blind, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a 21st-century initiative to increase transportation options for people with blindness or other disabilities who use The RIDE.
Baker unveiled a one-year pilot program that will give RIDE customers the option to use ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber at a discounted rate. The program, which begins immediately, will operate in conjunction with all existing RIDE services.
Baker said the initiative is part of the MBTA’s ongoing efforts to find creative ways to provide better service at a lower cost for its RIDE customers.
“This pilot partnership enhances The RIDE for its users – reducing costs, yes, but more importantly increasing accessibility and convenience for customers,” he said. “This pilot will bring on-demand service to their fingertips and meet individual needs for flexible travel options.”
Baker praised Perkins for supporting efforts to improve The RIDE, which serves people who have a physical, cognitive or mental disability that prevents them from using buses or subways.
“Perkins played a critical role in initiating the idea of this partnership (and) sparking the effort to expand options for RIDE users,” he said.
Perkins President and CEO Dave Power, in turn, thanked Baker and his administration for their “commitment to an issue so critical to the people we serve.”
“Equal access to these on-demand services is a huge step forward to inclusiveness and community engagement,” he said. “For people with disabilities, reliable transportation is a necessity, whether you need to get to your college class, the office, the grocery store or the movie theater.”
With this first-of-its-kind program, eligible customers will be able to book a trip with Uber or Lyft on demand, instead of having to reserve a ride one day in advance, as they must with The RIDE. Passengers will pay just $2 per trip, and the MBTA will subsidize the balance up to a maximum of $13.
Lyft customers who don’t have access to a smartphone can use a phone-in option. Uber will provide smartphones to a limited number of eligible customers to book trips. Both Uber and Lyft will provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles on demand.
“We are honored to be working with the MBTA,” said Uber Boston General Manager Chris Taylor. “Uber’s technology has helped expand access to convenient transportation options, while improving mobility and independence for thousands of people across the Commonwealth.”
“Lyft is proud to bring on-demand transportation to customers of The RIDE,” said General Manager of Lyft Boston Tyler George. “This partnership with the MBTA marks an exciting next step in enhancing and expanding The RIDE’s service.”
Also speaking at the event were Mass. Department of Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack and MBTA General Manager Brian Shortsleeve.
About 150 people, including disability activists, local political figures, reporters and TV camera crews, and Perkins students and staff, attended the press conference.
The MBTA solicited input about the new ride-sharing program from Perkins, along with the Bay State Council of the Blind, Mass Senior Action Council, the Disability Law Center, the Boston Center for Independent Living, the Disability Policy Center and MBTA’s Access Advisory Committee.
Uber and Lyft allow customers to use smartphone apps to hail rides from independent contractor drivers. The apps automatically calculate fares and transfer payment to the drivers.