I-Team: ‘The Ride’ Breaking MBTA’s Budget

By Jonathan Wells, I-Team Producer

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s called The Ride and its fleet of white sedans and handicapped accessible vans can be seen almost any day, all over eastern Massachusetts.

It’s the MBTA‘s door to door transit service and it’s more than just a “ride” for thousands of disabled and elderly clients. “It’s a lifeline to many citizens in the Commonwealth,” says MBTA General Manager Richard Davey.

But that lifeline is also breaking the MBTA’s budget, costing taxpayers nearly $90 million dollars last year alone.

WBZ-TV‘s Kathy Curran reports.

When the I-Team tracked the Ride over the past few months we found it’s a system susceptible to abuse and rampant with waste. It’s touted as a “shared ride” program, but most of the vehicles we followed had only one passenger on board.

The same scenario played out before our cameras again and again. In one instance, a woman was picked up in downtown Boston and dropped off in Roxbury and she was the only passenger on a large, handicapped accessible van.

“I’d say 25 percent of the time I’m with someone else; it’s usually 75 percent of the time I’ve been by myself,” said one disabled user of the Ride.

The I-Team also found Ride drivers with a lot of free time on their hands between customers. And when they were on the road, we found the more expensive, handicapped accessible vans being used to transport people who were ambulatory — able to walk on their own.

The RIDE costs taxpayers about $40 for each one-way trip. That’s four times what it cost when the program began back in 1977. In the last 5 years alone the annual cost of the ride has almost doubled.

“Over the next six years it will cost the state more than a half billion dollars if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” said state Inspector General Gregory Sullivan, whose office has been scrutinizing the Ride.

Sullivan says reforming the Ride could save the MBTA and taxpayers millions of dollars.

“One of the biggest problems is that the Ride has procured big contracts with three providers,” Sullivan said. “In other areas [states] use brokers who can work with any available cab company to get the lowest price per ride.”

The MBTA’s Davey is also concerned. “I won’t dispute that there is a better way to do it and the T’s been looking at that for the last several months,” he said.

Davey acknowledged there is also another issue: to qualify for the Ride, all someone needs is the signature of a health care professional.

“We seem to qualify folks by reviewing a form,” Davey said. “We do no in-person assessments right now. I would tell you that’s likely to change.”

And there’s more. Because most of the Ride’s trips are for medical appointments, the MBTA could be getting reimbursed by the federal government for close to 50 percent of its costs. But for some reason the MBTA hasn’t collected a dime.

“We’re allowing a lot of federal money to go by the boards by virtue of the fact that that information isn’t being captured and we’re not submitting it for reimbursement,” Sullivan said, estimating the MBTA has forfeited tens of millions of dollars as a result.

The MBTA, meanwhile, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars making the fixed route system of buses, trains and trolleys more accessible to the disabled and elderly. Davey said a major goal now is to try to get some of the Ride clients back into that system, and away from the more expensive door to door service.

  • the truth

    over 5000 passenger’s a day in cab’s? sure that will work out great!! i am sorry i don’t speak english where you going? or sorry did you fall, better you wait for other cab, have nice day

    take the ride from cohassett to topsfield for only 2.00 and you wonder why people sign up?

    30-40 dollars a day to park in boston, or 2.00 one way on the ride, doesn’t take a math wiz to figure this one out.

    passenger’s sign an application stating they can’t take public transportation, but then the do, that is called fraud in most circles.

    ok try picking on someone else, the disabled have it tough enough, hey cvs and walgreen’s respect us they starting building more and more stores for us in the 80’s and 90’s.

  • Jeanette Viens-Evans

    I still have a newspaper clipping of my wheelchair-bound mother getting the first “Ride” in Watertown. For a woman unable to travel independently for her entire 65 plus years at that time it was quite a wonder. Over the beginning years she would call the dispatch center and coordinate “rides” for many acquaintances in wheelchairs all over the city. I recall accompanying her on one ride that picked up six people between Watertown, Arlington and Cambridge. But as the years went by the dispatchers became more and more difficult to contact and they dropped appointments leaving handicapped people sitting in the street waiting to be picked up, etc. I spoke with her daily and what started as a fantastic system fell apart because of the inefficient management of the program by inept, disinterested contractors. Frankly, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to set up a database of area citizens who need the ride (and submit the necessary information–name, location and level of handicap) and dispatch vehicles accordingly. If an 8th grade 65-80 year-old person could do it with just a telephone – no computer – no Mapquest – no GPS – well, duh. The MTA powers-that-be might want to start by doing a little research of the track records of the companies they give the “Ride” contracts to in the first place.

  • taxedout

    Call your rep and Complain about this Money Pit, before they leave the state and Hide!!!

  • Cynic

    My Grandfather used to say that when the State did anything the result is always the exact opposite of what they started out to accomplish. These people would mess up a Peanut Butter Sandwich. Why is anyone surprized?

  • dan

    ive been using the ride for 6 yrs im legelly blind and can walk without cane but where i live there is no busesfor me to get to docs appts and so on if i take a cab it cost me like 40.00 for the cab depending where im going, i work for a living and without the ride would not beable to work. why dont they investigate the people pn welfare for 20yrs and so on ripping off the state. i know there is misuse on the ride but thats the people not the ride and for the reporter reporting this story alot of the rideas how there done and why there is only one person on a bus the rides are done by computer and by people. if you load the vans up and cars u will have people going from boston to lynn to braintree it would be a mess. and its not that easy to get approved either i had to show that i was legelly blind with proof from mas comm for the blind. people do need this program.

  • fedup

    I have worked at the main entrance of a majpr medical center for 4 years. I have NEVER seen more than 1 person in a “ride” vechicle. I also watch drivers sit for hours waiting for the return trip. How hard can it be for a computer to set up multiple people to share a “ride”?

    • K Erb

      The Americans with Disabiliteis Act is based on equitable service for this disabled. If a non-ADA individual can take a fixed route vehicle between a stop and a destination in 20 minutes, the ADA requirements provide for similar service for riders with various forms of disabilities. Therefore an ADA Certified rider does not have to be foreced to ride 1-2 hours to get to a location that is 20 minutes away from their home. There is also the fact that medical appointments are scheduled over a wide range of times. There isn’t a mass drop off at your medical center for one doctor or one department at 6 am and the dept or doctor just works through the mass. Most entities try to schedule appointments in order to use exam rooms and equipment efficiently. While there are walkin patients, most appointments are pre-scheduled. Undoubtely this is true at the medical center you work at.

      Ridesharing does take place ‘where possible’ due to timing of appointments and distances involved. It sounds like a really easy thing – just schedule 20 peiople onto the bus. What if 15 are in Wheelchairs and it takes 4-5 minutes to load and secure each chair. If the first client picked was the last to be dropped off, the load and unload times of 15 wheelchairs would mean that rider is on the bus 2 1/2 hours, not counting any travel time for each rider. The ADA prohibits ADA certified individuals being held ‘captive’ on a bus in order to provide for more ridesharing. Due to trip lengths and traffic enviroment in Boston, Ridesharing is done in the MBTA service area, but seldom is a Ride bus full. Captial funding and life cycle dictates the type of vehicles to be purchased. There is a lot more to the task of Paratrasnit scheduling than the article even hints at.

  • pj

    i don’t know what company you were following around but i know the schedules are very very tight.if the drivers, i know, can find a break, good. plus people think a driver sitting around is a waste, well have you ever asked them if they are on lunch break? they are allowed one! there are all kinds of factors as to why the vans are not always full all day long. could be the time of day, how many riders that are taking the ride at that time, how many drivers are working that day. you should find all this out before making accusations against the ride.i do believe the ride has gone way beyond what it was intially for and definitely some changes need to be made. but it’s a very good service for those who really really need it.and for “fedup” maybe these drivers already dropped passengers along the way or are going to be picking up after they leave the medical center! please find out and share all facts before speaking like this! don’t bully the disabled and elderly it has nothing to do with them that that the costs are so so high, nor its providers. that story was a big insult in many ways!

  • Cory

    Good morning everyone..I am a driver for the Ride, and this is what I was afraid of when I saw the preview of this segment. The fact is, when you handle upwards of 2800 trips per day, the system may not be perfect. Scheduling is something that’s always trying to be improved. When you see 1 person in a vehicle, the other person(s) may not have shown up for their trip, or may have cancelled at the last minute, thus leaving empty space in the schedule and the vehicle, especially when it comes to vans, if a wheelchair client cancels their trip, or doesn’t show, that’s going to leave an empty space in the vehicle, and the schedule. I personally know the dispatchers job is very tough, making sure the vehicles are where they are supposed to be at given times, and trying to move around all the different changes that come in over the course of the day. The Ride is a great service for the people that need it, and the service has a lot of dedicated great people that work hard everyday for the clients.

    • Cynic

      Cory it isn’t the Drivers or the people that do the actual work…It’s the meatheads that administer the program that are the problem. When is the last time they asked the opinion of yourself or anyone else that sees the problems everyday?

  • Merrymc

    Itt was so nice to see that you only stated that this service helps the elderly and the handicapped and never mentioned that drug addicts are also taking this service back and forth to their drug related medical apointments. When is it the government will help the elderly w/o making them out to be blood suckers. Point your accusing fingers at the people who are thr true blood suckers and not just people who you think have out lived their usefulness.

  • Michael Johnson

    I’m a former employee of THE RIDE & I can tell you firsthand what’s going on with THE RIDE. Number 1: Scheduling is all done by a computer. Information into the computers is entered by times, not destinations. As the saying goes: “Feed a computer junk, Get junk.” Number 2: Dispatch is useless. A lot of them don’t have a clue what they’re doing. All they have to track you is a computer screen. They don’t have any idea what the traffic is like. Number 3: Management: There are many road supervisors who shouldn’t be on the road. There are too many upper management people. No, I’m not being spiteful. I’m just stating my opinion.

  • pj

    well the law states that drug addicts is a mental illness so that does qualify them for the ride, so that is no fault of the mbta it is of the goverment ok. before you start writing these negative statements about the ride, find out your facts first!!! gossip is easy especially when you have a news team only showing the negatives about the mbta all the time. heaven forbid any one of us wake up tomorrow needing the ride for the rest of our lives.there are always faults in everything, no matter what it is, it’s called life.

  • m.brown

    i am a senior citizen who has no way to kkep doctors appointments without the ride. its a wonderful thing for the seniors and disabled. keep it up

  • 1stackmack

    as i said,i plow the woburn cinema complex.every storm we have a ride mini bus hiding behind the mountains of snow.he’ll sit there all day.talk about waisting money.and most of the drivers there have make drunk drivers look good behind the wheel.

  • Cynic

    Does the driver that drops the patient off for the appointment have to be the one to pick them up? Why not hire a couple of ex cabbie dispatchers? When the vehicle drops the passenger off at NEMC couldn’t He/She just call in “Clear at New England Medical and be dispatched to the next call? How about GPS in the Vehicles? Then the dispatcher could tell at a glance who he has evailable for pick up at Lomgwood or BCH or MGH…..???? Aren’t they, after all,just Taxis for the Handicapped?

    • Maura Mazzocca

      The drivers of the ride do have a GPS in their cars/vans. It is called a MDC. The dispatchers can check the MDC at any point in time where the exact location of each driver is. I highly doubt that The Ride drivers are sitting in their cars/vans behind snowbanks all day because the dispatchers can see via their computer and the MDC, exactly where each driver is! The dribers also use the MDC to log in when they arrive to pick up a passenger and when they have dropped off that same passenger at his/her destination.
      The Ride is not a perfect system, but for me, it is the only way I can get from my house to work because there is no public transportation from my town to where I work. The Ride gives me a tremendous amount of independence and for me, a person who is completely blind,, that’s not something you can put a price tag on!
      I do hope the MBTA is reading these comments and takes into account all of the persons with disabilities and other less abled folks that The Ride does help on a minute-to-minute basis.
      To the drivers of The Ride…all of you do an amazing job with getting all 2800 trips a day in and with compassion, kindess, respect and a great sense of humor! Keep up the great work!
      To all of the dispatchers…you do have a difficult job trying to jugggle 2800 trips a day, while taking into account traffic, weather, passengers who are running late, etc.
      MBTA…Please don’t abolish this program for reasons stated above!

  • Brett Louis

    I have 2 rare Neurological Movement disabilities causing me to take a fall in 11/05 and preventing me from driving since then. I lived in Medfield back then and the RIDE was my SAVIOR !! I could call one of the dispatchers and (adding an extra 30 min at each end) tell them where and when I needed to be somewhere and when I needed to be picked up. The night before the automated computer system would call me with the exact times for both ends. Then the pleasant, polite, and well dressed Van drivers would pull into my driveway and wheel me out and back into my home when the trip was over.

    There were many times, as was highlighted NEGATIVELY and by the person quoted on the show, that I was the only passenger on the van going to my destination, that all has to do with many factors I mention below. HOWEVER, there were also times that the driver was about to pickup many people AFTER he dropped me off. Now if Kathy had shown a camera shot of the inside of one of those vans, the viewers would have seen that there are plenty of seats as well as spaces for wheelchairs. The “one person on the bus statement” has to do with the following>>Depending on the day, time, destinations, and passenger count, there would be “ambulatory” people riding a “wheelchair van”. Now what sense would it make for the MBTA to send a “car” to pickup/dropoff a passenger when a van was going right by their home/appt. ? COME ON !! “Cory”, “PJ” and “Dan” above share my opinions.

    Typical of these “investigative” news programs, they always edit them in the negative but NEVER make any SUGGESTIONS on how to fix problems, how convenient. Regarding the “free time” the drivers have on their hands, might they have just FINISHED dropping off all the passengers they were carrying and were waiting for the “return trips” to begin ? That photo of the driver resting on his RIDE car gives a tainted impression. Maybe he broght someone to a pharmacy who was going to be right out or he could have arrived earlier than expected for a pickup (you know how ontime Doctors are).

    Regarding the cost to the taxpayers of the RIDE program, that isn’t their fault. It’s the fault of the 6 figure salaried MBTA BOARD members for not applying for Federal reimbursement that was their for the taking, going back to who knows when. The comment about the cost increases to run the program, now COME ON, what do you know that cost the same now as it did 34 years ago ?? Never mind the cost of fuel, tires, maintenance (by the way all the ones I rode and see look in GREAT shape). Did the I-team consider that just MAYBE there was an INCREASE in passengers and the miles they add to the vehicles, especially in these last 5 years as baby boomers become disabled, and the economy tanked.

    Since ’07, I now live in Westminster where there is only ONE “Van” bus, ONE driver, and they only operate 8a-4p, not like the RIDE’s 5a-11p. For me to coordinate transportation (and ONLY to abbuttng towns), first I have to call the Council of Aging and find out when and what days they are going to where I want, then I have to hopefully make my an appointment during that period, then call back the COA to set up my pickup/return times. DO I MISS THE RIDE TERRIBLY !!!

    So a couple suggestions to the I-Team>> First, stop with the “hype” stories and next time consider doing a story on how much money is wasted at the State (and Federal) levels for the Drug Enforcement Agency. We all know what great progress they’re making. I’m sure we all know how easy it is to get your drug of choice by asking the “right” people in ANY town, and there NEVER seems to be any shortages. (This is by my observation, NOT experience). It’s funny how with all the budget cuts to LEGITAMATE programs to our Towns and Federal Programs, the DEA NEVER seems to be mentioned as an agency that gets ANY cutbacks. Thank You for letting me voice my comments.




  • News Watcher

    I’d like to know the rationale for this serving non-public transportation towns and cities. I’d also like to know the rationale for why it has to be door to door.

    I know some of it is because of the lack of accessibility on trains and buses, but that does not have to equal door to door. Also, if there is no transportation AT ALL in a certain town, I don’t think THE RIDE should serve that town. If it’s a substitute for accessible trains and buses, then it has no business going anywhere except where the non-accessible trains and buses provide service that a person is unable to use due to disabilities. There is NO reason this ought to be a cab service going to places like Topsfield. If the town is not served by public transport, it should not be served by the RIDE, either. The person seeking to go to Topsfield should be dropped at the Ipswich, Beverly, or Salem train station just like would be the case for any other person on the planet and left to work it out from there on their own.

    I bet you’ll find ridership plummet (and costs, as a result) if they suddenly ONLY filling the accessibility gaps wher epublic transportation actually provides service and picking people up at/dropping them off at station locations ONLY.

  • Louise Jenkins

    An I-Team report was done awhile ago concerning Masshealth patients going to methadone clinics (I think) using cabs and other chauffered transportation with only one patient at a time. Isn’t is possible for them to use the ride and also to have their appointments made to correspond with more of them going at the same time? It doesn’t seem like it should be that much of a problem to me. And those who are ambulatory to use public transportation. I think you showed that many of those patients were close to public transportation. Also many public transportation buses are wheelchair accessible aren’t they?

  • Judith

    I have had 3 back surgeries and 2 knee surgeries this is my only means to get to work. It was my physical therapist that told me about the RIDE because she knew I was paying for a taxi to get to and from work every day for years. This has saved me so much money. The taxies I was taking everyday was breaking the bank for me. Some times I did not go shopping for food because I had to have taxi money. I feel that why are you picking on the customers. This seems to be a management problem. Why make us feel guilty for needing this service.

  • jr

    I worked for the RIDE for 5 years and took much pride in the work me and my fellow coworkers provided to the elderly and disable. I believe that it’s a service that 70% of the current customers couldn’t live without but the other 30% can. There are a number of issues that have to do with the way the system operates. This news article is very misleading because it doesn’t state the facts of why there’s only 1 person in the van at certain times. A lot of times we would start the day with 3100 trips and would end up performing 2000 due to the fact that the other 1100 cancelled. Sometimes our drivers would get to the door and the person would cancel at the door or would no show 2 or 3 times. I believe the MBTA needs to do a better job on deciding who does and doesn’t need this service. There are a number of clients that can use the regular public transportation but choice not to because of the convenience of having a door to door service. This people don’t realize that you’re taking the service away from someone that really needs it. I hope the ride continues to provide the service to all that really need it but I also hope they remove the ones that don’t. That’s the only way this service will continue to operate. Well enough said this are just a few issues of the many that still exist. It’s not my job to figure it out but I just wanted to give me a little opinion. This is another example of why the media sucks and how they never gives you all the facts!

  • http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/08/25/i-team-commission-meets-to-discuss-mbtas-the-ride-program/ I-Team: Commission Meets To Discuss MBTA’s ‘The Ride’ Program « CBS Boston

    […] the i-Team discovered thousands of dollars in waste in the program that’s breaking the MBTA’s budget, costing taxpayers $90 million last […]

  • Rob

    This article states that usually, The Ride cars have 1 passenger. This is false. 99% of the time, they have 0 PASSENGERS. Abolish The Ride, period, right now. If you “need” it, sorry; we can’t afford it.

  • http://transitmatters.info/2013/03/28/livablestreets-hosts-a-t-riffic-night-of-t-trivia/ LivableStreets hosts a T-riffic night of T Trivia | Transit Matters

    […] T, mobility and independence can be very costly and time-consuming for the disabled, as shown by The Ride’s growing costs and hurdles as compared to the rest of the MBTA’s operations. Even as the fixed routes of the T have […]

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