REPLACEMENT OF RIDE CONTRACTOR DEMANDED
Three days after a Newton woman died in a crash involving a Ride taxi, nearly 150 people with disabilities yesterday demanded again that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority replace the contractor that runs the troubled door-to-door van service for disabled people.
"The crisis of the last two months has reached such proportion that the disabled community of Boston is saying enough is enough," said Nate Thayer, transportation coordinator for the state Office of Handicapped Affairs.
Also yesterday, the MBTA released statistics from a recent survey showing that 39 percent of Ride users are "less satisfied" with the Ride now than they were a year ago. But MBTA officials said the survey also indicated that service is improving.
The Ride has been a target of criticism since a Virginia firm, Transportation Management System Inc., took over the contract to run it in June. Several riders have been injured in crashes and falls attributed to inexperienced drivers, and the firm was fined $57,000 for poor service.
On Monday afternoon, 80-year-old Ride subscriber Bertha Kowalsky of Newton died after the Veteran's Taxi in which she was riding accelerated out of control and crashed in Brookline. Veteran's Taxi, a Newton company, is a TMSI subcontractor.
At a packed meeting at the state Transportation Building yesterday, almost 150 Ride users unanimously voted to demand that the T place the Ride in receivership and run it until a new contractor is chosen.
"This is by far the biggest meeting and the biggest vote," Thayer said.
However, Anne Bickford, MBTA deputy director of operations, said the fatal accident will not result in any immediate action. "We are not prepared to take any action that will affect the rest of the riders," she said.
T officials said no penalties will be imposed on the taxi service or TMSI because of the accident.
"Veteran's Taxi has done a good job. This is an isolated incident," said Timothy F. Gens, the T's director of development and public affairs.
Police investigating the accident said the taxi driver, Robert Moriarty, 26, who was released from the hospital Tuesday after treatment of injuries, may have had a seizure.
In the survey of 400 Ride users, conducted by Atlantic Research Co., 19 percent said they are more satisfied with the service since TMSI took it over, 21 percent said they were equally satisfied, and 22 percent said they were undecided.
However, another survey question asked users to rate their experience with the Ride, "taking everything into consideration," and 60 percent of the 400 riders called it somewhat or very satisfactory.
"Those aren't terrific numbers," said Michael Meuhe, a member of the T access advisory committee. "I'm discouraged by those numbers. It's mediocre at best."
Meuhe said he believes the results reflect the "unpredictability and wildly varying experience" of people who use the Ride.
Gens said the survey "does not suggest there are no problems" but does provide evidence of what he called continuing improvements in the service.
The survey found, for example, that 90 percent said drivers are generally or always courteous, 77 percent expressed satisfaction with the reservation system, and 90 percent said drivers usually or always drive safely.
Gens, acknowledging "persistent start-up problems" since TMSI took over, said it would be a mistake to switch again.
"Given the imposing problems that riders would encounter with any transition, it really is incumbent on us to make the service work," Gens said.
A follow-up survey involving only those who expressed negative opinions in the initial survey showed that 49 percent are growing increasingly dissatisfied. None said they are more satisfied about drivers or more satisfied that drivers are improving safety.