Supporting Access to Transportation for Low-Income Seniors & People with Disabilities
July 2017 Update: GREAT NEWS! The no-fare bus pass for low-income seniors and people with disabilities was fully restored on July 1, 2017!! Thanks to all who contributed to this wonderful campaign effort!! Check back soon for celebration stories & updates on how this has positively impacted the lives of Rhode Islanders.
RIPTA previously provided a no-fare bus pass for low-income seniors and people with disabilities, allowing them to access much-needed transportation and remain connected to the community. RIPTA terminated this program February 1, 2017, causing serious harm.
Check out Blossom's story, above. Blossom is a leader in the RI Organizing Project and one of many low-income seniors and people with disabilities whose lives would be dramatically changed by the end of the no-fare bus pass. You can read Paul and Christine's story, shared with congregants at Temple Sinai, here in The Jewish Voice. For more video stories, see RI Future and RI Coalition for the Homeless.
Words from Our Faith Traditions
Facts to Consider
Words from Our Faith Traditions
- “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.” - Pope Francis, given in address to Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Communion, 2013
- “The one who does not have mercy on young children, nor honors the elderly, is not one of us" – The Prophet Muhammad (in the collection of al-Tirmidhi)
- “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” - Gospel of Matthew 25:40
Facts to Consider
- About 13,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities rely on the no-fare bus pass to meet basic transportation needs, including access to grocery stores, food banks, shelters, community programs, religious services, recovery meetings, volunteer opportunities, libraries, support groups and much more.
- The no-fare pass was originally set to end July 2016, with fares going up to $1.00/ride and $0.50/transfer, but a strong public outcry from organized communities held back those changes and pushed down the proposed fare increase. The pprogram was extended for an additional six months, through December, 2016. An additional 1 month extended maintained the program through January. However, beginning February 1, 2017, the fare increased to $0.50/ride (and $0.25/transfer). Many very low-income seniors and people with disabilities can’t afford this increase.
- Without consistent access to transportation, low-income seniors and people with disabilities are deprived connection and community, and the rest of the state is deprived the gift of their presence and participation. Research studies have repeatedly shown that the costs of social isolation for health are extreme. A meta-study on social isolation found that it is the public health equivalent of other mortality risk factors like smoking and obesity. Public transit access is a cost-efficient, simple, effective way to increase social connectedness.
- LogistiCare reimbursement is available only for a strictly-defined set of medical appointments. It does not cover even such basics as accessing food or shelter.
- A pilot program offering 10-ride passes is available only to seniors and veterans. This program leaves other people with disabilities – the majority of no-fare bus pass users – no supports, at all. Further, many seniors and veterans need to take more than five round trips per month. The solution is inadequate both in its scope and in its quality.
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Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish
Eliminating the no-fare bus pass for low-income seniors and people with disabilities creates significant costs, both in terms of public health and human wellbeing and in terms of the state's total spending.
While the best-case scenario projections by RIPTA, itself, indicated that the pass could generate an additional $1.5-$2 million in revenue for RIPTA's budget, the cost of these cuts, rippling out to other sectors, may well far exceed that modest gain. The Rhode Islanders who rely on the no-fare bus pass include some of the state's very poorest residents. Many have told us that they simply cannot pay the proposed fare increase and continue their previous travel routines. They have had to cut back on the number of trips they take each month. This paring-back was assumed in RIPTA's own projections, which anticipated a take-up of only about 60%.
Those lost trips are not frivolous. Very low-income seniors and people with disabilities depend on transportation to access grocery stores, food banks, overnight shelters, community programs, meal programs, religious services, recovery meetings, volunteer opportunities, libraries, support groups and much more. Social supports for otherwise-isolated residents that are currently available at little or no cost to the state have become inaccessible for many of our poorest community members. While many of these helping institutions do provide very limited travel assistance, using emergency supplies of purchased RIPTIKS or other transit support, almost none of these institutions have the budget or capacity to meet the travel needs of all of their clients. Very low-income seniors and people with disabilities are deprived connection and community, and the rest of the state is deprived the gift of their presence and participation.
Research studies have repeatedly shown that the costs of social isolation for health are extreme. A meta-study on social isolation found that it is the public health equivalent of other mortality risk factors like smoking and obesity. Public transit access is an extremely cost-efficient, simple, effective way to increase social connectedness. We were ill-advised to add increased isolation to the mix of risk factors negatively impacted the health of poor, low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
A lifelong Rhode Island resident in her early 60’s, living in Central Falls, shared that she has been a RIPTA rider since the 1960’s. She now has a disability. She had relied on the no-fare bus pass to access basic transportation. In her own words, there are days, now, that she stays in and days she comes out, because she needs to save her quarters. Still, she says, “I don’t want to feel like a prisoner in my own home.”
Limiting access to transportation creates fundamental basic need access problems, as well. Sometimes false assumptions about individual efficiencies underlie the arguments against transportation access. For example, many people with disabilities and seniors who rely on the no-fare bus pass require more frequent trips to purchase food, as compared with some of their more able-bodied peers. Can’t they just cut back? Well, in fact, in many instances, no. For many, this is not a problem that can be solved via different planning choices; many people are quite naturally physically limited as to how much they can carry per trip.
Andrew Schiff, CEO of the RI Community Food Bank, made this comment, prior to the termination of the no-fare bus pass program: “In Rhode Island, about 12,000 low-income senior adults and people with disabilities rely on the no-fare bus pass to meet their basic transportation needs. These same individuals often receive food assistance at member agencies of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, traveling to and from these agencies by bus. Charging a fare of $0.50 per ride will tax this population and limit their ability to access food assistance with dire consequences for their diet and health. Therefore, the Food Bank supports preserving free bus passes for low-income seniors and people with disabilities in Rhode Island.”
Other social service providers, from both faith-based and secular organizations, have consistently voiced similar concerns. Homeless service providers, mental health and recovery organizations and senior centers have been vocal proponents of preserving the no-fare bus pass, as have some municipal and local leaders from RI cities and towns.
Adding a clear moral voice to the conversation, Bishop Thomas Tobin, Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, issued a statement in December 2016, saying, in part: “We ask that the RIPTA board, the governor’s office and House and Senate leadership review this policy once again to avoid harming some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens. Although we are not accountants or legislators, we are pastors who encounter many of those people who will suffer from this increase. Their needs and concerns are valid and we believe call for further review.”
Misunderstandings Regarding Medical Reimbursement Dollars & Interim Support Progams
It has been repeatedly claimed by RIPTA and others that riders will be able to get vouchers for transportation through federal funds earmarked for medical transit, cycling through LogistiCare. However, that claim flies in the face of the evidence, including RIPTA's own data collection, which showed that only 3-9% of surveyed riders were using RIPTA for a medical appointment. This corroborates findings by other community groups who have spoken extensively with no-fare bus pass users and found that medical trips account for only a small fraction of total rides.
Further, LogistiCare reimbursement is available only for a strictly-defined set of medical appointments. While these reimbursements will pay for a meeting with your dietician to advise you on good nutrition, they will not cover your transportation to a meal program, food pantry or grocery store – leaving you well-informed on diet but just as hungry for food.
In addition, individuals must be able to plan these trips well in advance, leaving enough time to call Logisticare, make a request for a bus ticket and be approved for that request, and wait to receive that ticket from Logsiticare, by mail, all in advance of one’s appointment. Sometimes the rhythms of health and illness simply do not allow such advance planning, particularly for seniors and people with disabilities.
Additionally, beginning February 1st, a pilot program began offering 10-ride passes as a temporary amelioration measure upon the loss of the no-fare bus passes. This program is entirely inadequate to the need. First, it is available only to seniors and veterans. This program leaves other people with disabilities – who comprised the majority of no-fare bus pass users – no supports, at all. Further, many seniors and veterans require more than five round trips per month. The benefits will run out, for many, mid-month, leaving these individuals functionally stranded. This solution is inadequate both in its scope and in its quality.
An Opportunity to Against Stand Among National Leaders in Transit Equity
The importance of accessible public transportation for low-income seniors and people with disabilities is increasingly recognized. Nationally, we find that some of the country's most vibrant public transit systems are moving towards a similar or even more generous model of support than what is provided here in Rhode Island.
The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency recently (Jan 2015) adopted a no-fare program for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. San Francisco's income eligibility guidelines are substantially more generous than Rhode Island's guidelines. The pass is available for all San Francisco seniors (65+) and people with disabilities who have incomes at or below the median for the SF Bay area, with adjustments based on household size. An individual is eligible if he/she has less than $75,400 in income, i.e. more than 600%FPL. A two-person household is eligible with income less than $86,150; a 3-person household less than $96,950; etc.
The Illinois Department of Aging provides a Ride Free Transit Card for seniors (65+) and people with disabilities who are Illinois residents and have incomes less than $27,610/year for an individual, $36,635 for a 2-person household or $45,657 for a 3-person household.
Free transportation for seniors is also available via the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority and in several other regions, as well.
Until this winter, Rhode Island stood among these national leaders. It can do so again.