Protesters block traffic outside Mass. Statehouse
BOSTON (AP) — A group of seniors and people with disabilities used their wheelchairs to shut down traffic in front of the Statehouse shortly before the Massachusetts House was set to debate a major transportation bill.
Boston police arrested four people during the noisy Monday protest that lasted for about 30 minutes. The protesters did not resist and there were no injuries.
The protesters were calling on lawmakers to roll back fares for the MBTA’s door-to-door paratransit service known as The RIDE. The fares were doubled last year for most users, from $2 to $4, with even larger increases for people who live farther from Boston.
Disabled members of the group sat in wheelchairs from sidewalk to sidewalk along Beacon Street, joined by several able-bodied protesters who sat in folding chairs. They chanted slogans including “fix it, fund it, make it fair,” and we can’t ride, access denied.”
Frustrated motorists honked horns as traffic quickly backed up on the busy street.
“Folks have been denied transit, people stuck in their homes and unable to get to the doctor,” said Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Mass Senior Action Council, moments before she was handcuffed and escorted to a police van.
“We’re trying to help folks understand the urgency and the real crisis,” she said, adding that she understood police were also doing their job.
Police did not arrest any of the protesters in wheelchairs, instead wheeling them to the sidewalk in front of the Statehouse when they declined to move on their own.
Rose Ellen McGarvey, 66, of Swampscott, said it was the first time in her life she had been arrested as officers handcuffed her and gently walked her to the back of a police cruiser.
It was not immediately known what charged might be filed.
The protest came as the House was about to begin debate on the $500 million bill that calls for higher taxes on gasoline and cigarettes to help pay for transportation. The bill seeks to avoid another round of fare hikes on the MBTA but would not roll back those that went into effect last year.
The MBTA says it has subsidized nearly the entire cost of The RIDE in past years, leaving the transit system with no choice but to raise costs for users to continue the service.
Wheelchair user Denise Jackson, 53, of Lynn, said she lives on a fixed income and was able to devote $50 a month to transportation, limiting her ability to make appointments and get around on a daily basis.