HANDICAPPED CRITICIZE MBTA ON VAN SERVICE FREQUENT DELAYS, FAULTY EQUIPMENT CITED
A group of handicapped people told a meeting of the MBTA's access advisory committee yesterday that the door-to-door service known as The Ride is unreliable and dangerous.
The Ride is operated by Transportation Management System Inc. under contract from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Promises to improve the service have not been met, one participant said. "They're making an effort, there's no question on that, but it's not enough," Ralph Steele told the panel.
Steele mentioned reports of injuries due to incompetence, and added, "Are they waiting for someone to die before they take action?"
Timothy Gens, a spokesman for the MBTA, said the service provided by Transportation Management has improved since July 1, when the Virginia company took over the service from THEM Inc. of Cambridge.
"There has been significant improvement since the transitional period, when one would expect a certain amount of confusion," Gens said.
But according to Nate Thayer, transportation director for the state Office of Handicapped Affairs, criticism has been pouring in since Transportation Management took over operation of The Ride.
"There's a serious crisis facing the 9,000 handicapped individuals who depend on The Ride -- and right now, because right now it's not working," he said.
Thayer said his office has received 1,000 complaints concerning The Ride since July 1.
Thayer noted there was "not one complaint regarding service" during the time THEM Inc., a nonprofit agency, ran the service.
"It's like a leaking ship with 70 holes in it," Thayer said of Transportation Management. "The only solution is to get a new ship, a new contractor for The Ride."
Carolyn Stack said she came to the meeting, which was attended by about 25 handicapped people, to present the case of her 80-year-old father, Arthur Conway.
"My father goes to dialysis three times a week, and we've gotten calls from hospital workers asking us to come pick him up because The Ride didn't show up," she said.
Thayer said one woman was late for a dialysis treatment and was told by her doctor upon arriving that she was in serious risk of a stroke because of the delay.
"TMSI was warned specifically about this woman," Thayer said. "Either they don't know what they're doing or they don't care."
Thomas McKenne, who works at Ferguson Industries, told the committee: "The trouble with all these meetings is, they always pass the buck -- back and forth."
McKenne said The Ride drivers are polite and try to do their job, but that there is a lack of communication from management. He said some vans have faulty lift equipment, leaving the drivers hard-pressed to do their job.
Because of delays in The Ride, McKenne added, he's been arriving late for work by an hour or more for the last three weeks.
McKenne said if delays continue, he could be docked the hour's pay, adding that he's frustrated by the company's lack of sensitivity.
"A lot of these people are making money off the handicapped," he said. "But they don't give a damn so long as they collect their big fat salaries."
McKenne said that on a recent day he was picked up late by a van that had a broken gas gauge, no brake lights and no arm rest on his seat.
"Someone could fall out of their seat real easy," he pointed out.
Lorraine Greiff, assistant director of public affairs for the Office of Handicapped Affairs, said many handicapped people who use The Ride live at the whim of the company's scheduling.
"You make plans to go somewhere and then you discover at the last minute you're not going anywhere," she said.