In about two weeks, the MBTA Orange Line will begin a historic 30-day shutdown, though detailed plans are still scarce.

Passengers with disabilities say they will be acutely impacted by the shutdown. They are frustrated by a lack of information about temporary replacement service, and they say existing alternatives like the commuter rail and The Ride are not as reliable or convenient as the Orange Line.

“It will be quite disruptive to me being able to get around,” said Jerry Boyd, a West Roxbury resident and transportation advocate who uses the Orange Line regularly. Boyd has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair.

Boyd says he wishes the MBTA would release more detailed plans about how they plan to address accessibility during the shutdown. In a statement to GBH News, spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the T is still working on those plans: “The final plans will be announced as soon as state and local transportation officials finish constructing viable and effective alternatives for all commuters.“

The MBTA has already signed a contract with A Yankee Lines Inc., a local company that will provide free shuttle buses as replacement for the Orange Line. Pesaturo said all of the shuttles will be ADA-compliant and will be a mix of low-floor buses and traditional buses, and the T will also run ADA-compliant vans along the shuttle route.

For a number of years, disability advocates have been calling for more accessible replacement shuttles during construction shutdowns. Juan Carlos Ramírez-Tapia, a wheelchair user, says he has used the shuttles during past service interruptions — and although they may be ADA-compliant with a wheelchair lift, he said that’s not a guarantee for a good experience.

“They’re usually not really wheelchair friendly, they require a lot of maneuvering to fit into those tight spots,” he said. “And also there's very few safety mechanisms to secure the chair, and once you are in those buses the chair usually is blocking the corridor. So if people are in a rush, it’s quite often that you’re going to get hit.”

He says that the driver must move seats inside the bus to make room for a wheelchair, and those sometimes get stuck, forcing the wheelchair user to have to wait for another bus.

Boyd also said he isn’t reassured by the idea of relying on shuttle buses rather than the usual MBTA buses. “It's really hard on a good day as far as accessing the bus, let alone if you're accessing a shuttle bus or, you know, in the middle of a service disruption,” he said.

For example, he says that when he is trying to get on T buses, the driver doesn’t always see him, or other passengers block his pathway onto the bus ramp. For replacement shuttle buses, where to get on has not always been clear.

Boyd sometimes uses The Ride, the paratransit service that provides door-to-door service for people with disabilities — but says it isn’t necessarily a good substitute during this shutdown since it must be booked in advance. In addition to staffing shortages, Boyd says he knows people who have been stranded or have had to wait hours for service.

“Overall [The Ride has] become more and more unreliable, and I don’t think most people in the disability community have very much faith that it’s going to get better or can get better,” he said.

"It's really hard on a good day as far as accessing the bus, let alone if you're accessing a shuttle bus or, you know, in the middle of a service disruption."
-Jerry Boyd, transportation advocate

MBTA officials are also encouraging riders to consider the commuter rail, as it runs parallel to some Orange Line stops. But because the routes don’t overlap fully, that option won’t be as convenient for people like Ramírez-Tapia, who lives in the South End and uses the Orange Line to commute downtown to his job.

He has the option to take the Silver Line and says that the T buses are generally accessible. If the replacement shuttle buses aren’t working for him, he can travel around downtown in his power wheelchair, which he would rather do than relying on uncertainty of The Ride.

“I think that's going to be perhaps the easiest way for me if I don't see an alternative like the MBTA buses,” he said. “I tend to enjoy the liberty of using my own time to move whenever I want to go from one place to another.”

The Orange Line shutdown is the culmination of a string of dangerous incidents on the T that have raised accessibility and safety concerns. A fire on an Orange Line train in July forced riders to escape through windows, with one woman jumping into the Mystic River. Ramírez-Tapia wants the MBTA to think more about how to facilitate safety for all riders.

“I wonder what would happen [to a disabled rider] in that situation,” he said. “Yeah, I'm afraid. For example, I still don't have an answer to that. I guess I would be just hoping that someone would help me at that moment.”

In an event with the GBH Forum Network in May focused on the MBTA and accessibility, Laura Brelsford, the assistant general manager for system-wide accessibility at the MBTA, said the agency has been thinking hard about emergency preparedness for riders with disabilities for a number of years, but there is still not a lot of federal guidance and regulation.

“When it comes to building codes that are in place today, there are some pretty clear requirements around emergency evacuation pathways… but not a lot of guidance about those of us with disabilities,” she said.

Boyd understands that the T has achieved a lot of progress on accessibility in recent years. He also understands that a drastic decision had to be made quickly for the Orange Line shutdown and not everything could be thoroughly planned. But he wishes there was more communication with groups, like disability advocates, who would be most affected.

“As far as I know, we haven’t been outreached to — I would have hoped we would have been one of the first groups to be given a heads up,” he said.