RIPTA is considering raising bus fares by $1 on disabled, elderly and the homeless, and more than two dozen advocates and representatives from those communities voiced their opposition at the RIPTA board meeting held in the middle of the afternoon yesterday.
They wondered why RIPTA (Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority) is considering balancing its budget on the poorest and most vulnerable communities. For some, the bus is their only means of travel. Raising the rates will mean getting out of the home and into the community less.
As William Flynn, executive director of the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI said, “Isolation kills, and transportation is a vital part of fighting isolation.” He thinks as many as 4,500 Rhode Islanders may be affected by the plan.
Another speaker, from the RIPTA Riders Alliance, cited a Brown University study that showed that on average, people on fixed income may have as little as $40 a month of discretionary cash. Raising the bus fares on these people is estimated to cost an average of $30 a month. Several present and former clergy, such as the Reverend Chris Foster of the Providence Presbyterian Church, implied that the very consideration of a plan that goes after the last dollars of the poor and vulnerable was “immoral” and implored the board to find other ways of closing the funding gap.
Amazingly, the RIPTA board almost didn’t have a quorum when the meeting started, many of the board members did not even show up at what one observer called the most packed public commentary meeting in years. Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, chairman of RIPTA’s Board of Directors, was often seen reading his cellphone during testimony, apparently unable to feign interest for the concerns of the poor, disabled, homeless or elderly.
Ray Studley, RIPTA CEO, like most other board members presents, was attentive, but after public commentary ended, he made false and misinformed comments about the availability of Medicare billable transportation services through Logisticare. Logisticare is a private company used by the state to transport people to non-emergency doctor appointments. The company requires scheduling trips up to weeks in advance, and according to many who spoke to me outside the meeting, is unreliable, often late or doesn’t show up at all.
Further, Logisticare does not provide rides for anything but Medicare billable transportation. Shopping, work, visits to family, social engagements, pharmacy visits and even necessary trips to rehabilitation support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, are not covered, despite what Studley was saying. Of course, Studley said this after public comment was over, so those I talked to outside RIPTA after the meeting were frustrated that they had no chance to refute this.
Logisticare is expensive. The state is billed, through Medicare, much more than it costs to provide free bus trips for some groups of people. If a senior is able to use the bus for a regular doctor’s appointment, why force that person to use a more expensive and more specialized means of transportation at a much higher cost to the state?
William Flynn of the Senior Agenda Coalition knows a woman in recovery who goes to four or five AA meetings a week. These meetings are her lifeline. If she misses meetings, her odds of relapsing go up. Others may start missing needed doctors appointments or not fill prescriptions in a timely manner. The economic cost to our state in terms of emergency medical services will rise, but more importantly there will be a rise in misery and suffering.
Balancing budgets on the backs of the poor is never the right thing to do.
Below is the testimony of all 17 people who spoke out at the board meeting.
“I can not impress upon you the damaging effect… many of these people are living on incomes of less than $800 a month…”
“…the dollar will cost them $360 a year, we’re talking about people who make $782 a month…”
“…to a lot of the people here… that’s not a lot of money at all..” but to those on a fixed income…
…not only the cost, but the isolation they face in Providence with the difficulty of getting around…”
“…there will be an increase of physical and mental afflictions as well as an increase in visits to the emergency room…”
“Those with mental illness tend to isolate, and if they don’t have a lot of support they isolate and don’t take care of themselves…”
“If this proposal goes through… I won’t be able to go to Rhode Island College…”
“The Pope [was] talking about the small things that we do that result in justice, mercy and the care of others. This is what he’s talking about…”
“There’s people downtown stranded right now and there’s homeless people downtown every day in Kennedy Plaza. They cannot get on the bus if they don’t look right…”
“The greatest single factor that leads to shorter lives for people is isolation.”
“We are all responsible for all, and to all. This is a basic framework, a basic belief of all our major religions. The Judeo-Christian, the Muslem, the Hindu, Buddhist, even the non-religious, the Humanists!”
“Each time we take the bus we have to take several buses a day to attend programs that greatly improve the quality of of our illnesses or disablities…”
“In my last twenty years I’ve seen seniors who are of low income come to me because they have no food. I’ve seen them come to my center because they have no money. I’ve seen them come to my center because they’re in the dark because they can’t pay their electric bill…”
“I know people who have cars and high paying jobs who are ethically outraged by this…”
“Brown University did a study and the average discretionary monies per month for disabled and elderly people is around $40…”
And here’s RI Future’s own Andrew Stewart!