T to train seniors, disabled on using mass transit
Mallory Cyr, 28, was warned by friends when she moved to Boston last August: Because she uses a motorized scooter to get around, Cyr would find the T impossible to navigate.
“I actually had people say to me, ‘You’re going to Boston; are you crazy?’ ” said Cyr, who lives in Allston. But she moved anyway. “I’m not going to select where I live based on my physical limitations.”
Almost a year later, she said, she has proved them wrong, taking the Green Line for many of her daily errands. Much of the credit for her commuting success, she said, goes to a new training program at the MBTA.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced Tuesday that the program that has helped Cyr will provide improved travel training for older riders and people with disabilities who would like to use public transportation.
In years past, the T has provided individual help, teaching people to use the system and plan routes, but few were aware of the service.
With a new federally funded program, called Ways2Go, the T will be able to hold group seminars and provide more in-depth coaching.
About 30 people, including Cyr, have already been trained as part of a six-month test run. With the official launch, Ways2Go will accommodate 20 to 30 people per month.
The goal, MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott said at a press conference at Park Street Station, is to “make the system fully open, so that everybody can use and enjoy the T.”
The program will provide help on the logistics of using public transit, for example, how to use the station call box or get access to the train’s ramp, as well as advice on finding the most accessible routes.
The T is working with SCM Community Transportation, a Somerville-based organization that provides disabled people with rides to medical appointments and errands.
For many people who are considering using public transportation for the first time, the prospect can be overwhelming, said Reed Cochran, executive director of SCM Community Transportation.
“For senior citizens who have given up their car keys, it doesn’t quite come natural to them if you hand them a subway map and say, ‘Have fun,’ ” Cochran said. “You need to spend a little time with them, a class or two, to make them comfortable with it.”
The training is also a cost-saving measure for the T. The authority operates The Ride, a door-to-door paratransit service for seniors and people with disabilities. On a per-person basis, it’s the most expensive service for the T to run.
Last year, T officials came under fire for doubling fares for The Ride to $4, a move that many felt worsened quality of life for disabled riders forced to cut back on outings.
The training program, if successful, could help users of The Ride switch to subway, commuter rail, and bus service, Scott said, which could save the MBTA a significant sum.
The training would help disabled residents save money, too, Cochran said.
“The T, more than anything else, can connect people to more places, at more times of the day, at a better price than any of us that are operating paratransit,” Cochran said.
But some say the travel training is hardly a solution for commuters physically incapable of using public transportation, who are strapped for cash since fare hikes on The Ride.
“It doesn’t do anything to address the thousands of people who depend on The Ride and have, quite frankly, been priced out of the system,” said Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.
While seminars may help people with disabilities use some stations, many T facilities remain inaccessible for people in wheelchairs, said Anne Johansen, 62, of Quincy. The station closest to her house, Wollaston, does not have an elevator, so she must travel on her wheelchair to North Quincy Station, almost a mile away.
“More than 20 years after the [Americans with Disabilities Act],” Johansen said during the press conference, “it’s still completely inaccessible.”
Scott said the T is working on a report that will prioritize which stations need renovations to accommodate people with disabilities.
But for some, like Cyr, it is a relief to finally be able to use the transportation system enjoyed by the wider population. She and her boyfriend, who also uses a wheelchair, use The Ride for grocery shopping or appointments in hard-to-reach places, she said. But the service’s limited hours and need for scheduling in advance mean it is useless if she wants to have a late dinner with friends.
Still, she said, figuring out how to get from point A to point B is the most challenging part of daily life. “We basically wake up every day knowing it’s going to be an adventure,” Cyr said. “You have to embrace that mentality.”