BOSTON — Starting this summer, fare to use the paratransit system THE RIDE will rise from $2 to $4 in a newly created designated zone; a trip will cost $5 for service outside this service zone.
The fare hike, which was recently approved by the MBTA, will have a real impact on those with fixed incomes who rely on the service, like Willemina Melrose.
The grandmother of five gets a call to say that THE RIDE car she requested has arrived.
She hoists herself out of a well-worn leather chair and zips up her long black coat. Melrose swings her white cane out in front of her long legs and leans heavily on her left side to avert pain in an arthritic hip. She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment.
Melrose is 61 years old and has been blind since her mid-30s, but she’s never let that slow her down.
“I’m a very independent person,” she says. “I still cook for myself. I still do my own laundry. Sometimes I can go the market, and in the markets they have people that help you out once you get inside the place.”
A few days a week, Melrose pays $4 for a car or van to take her where she needs to go and back. She says the federally mandated service is a lifeline for her and others in the Boston area. It takes many to regular dialysis and chemotherapy appointments — which they literally need to survive.
“THE RIDE is the only connection to getting to where you have to go,” Melrose says.
Outside of her Egleston Square apartment, Melrose hobbles in to THE RIDE car on the arm of a driver. Once buckled in she’s on her way to a consultation for an exercise class at the Joslin Diabetes Center. She hopes to go to the class twice a week –- so long as she can afford the trip there.
Social Security disability checks are the unemployed grandmother’s only income and she says she’ll have to make hard trade-offs when the cost of her weekly trips go from about $20 to $40 in July.
“Either there’s gonna be a lot of appointments I’m not gonna make or I [will] just have to cut my grocery shopping down — and I’m a diabetic and the doctors want you to eat properly.”
Doctors want her to exercise, too, but Melrose might have to skip workouts if her budget won’t allow for her to get to them.
That’s why she protested the MBTA’s plans to raise fares. She feels the looming price hike on the government-subsidized service is unfair — especially to seniors who’ve paid taxes for decades. Melrose conveyed her thoughts to the MBTA board when she testified at the board meeting before the fare increase was approved.
Standing before a mic, her voice boomed: “I was working when minimum wage was $1.85, OK? So I have put into the system full force, and this is the thanks I get? It’s not right.”
Back at the Joslin Center after her appointment, Melrose waits in the lobby for THE RIDE. It’s 20 minutes late. A boxy white van finally swings up to get her but Melrose says she’s learned to be patient.
That virtue will come in handy since Willemina Melrose says she will again call for the MBTA to lower THE RIDE’s fares when the board votes on a new budget next year.