Free rides end soon for senior citizens

June 1, 2011 3:38:15 PM PDT
The end of the line is nearing for most senior citizens getting free rides on public transit in Illinois.

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) outlined plans to end the Seniors Ride Free program Wednesday. Under the new plan, only low-income seniors will continue to ride the CTA, Metra and Pace for free. For all others, free rides will end on September 1.

For the next three months, seniors can continue to use their current fare cards. However, after September 1, 90-percent of the seniors in the program will have to pay half fare. Transit officials are launching an information blitz to inform the 440,000 seniors who are currently riding for free.

"We're hopeful that they had a good experience, found that it was a terrific way to get around," Joseph Costello, RTA executive director, said. "And that they'll continue to ride even if they have to pay half fare."

"The big thing about this program is to get the information to the seniors, so they don't get on the bus, and the operator says you need to pay a fare, and they're embarrassed," TJ Ross, Pace executive director, said.

Seniors currently enrolled in the Seniors Ride Free program will not have to reapply. In August, they will automatically receive a new reduced fare or free rides card in the mail.

"It will be exactly like the former card that many of these passengers had before the free rides," Judy Pardonnet, Metra spokesperson, said.

The new senior rides program will be administered by the Illinois Department on Aging's Circuit Breaker Program, which currently provides property tax relief for low-income seniors. The qualifying criteria is the same:

  • Riders must be 65 or older;
  • and earn roughly less than $28,000 individually or $37,000 as a two-person household, or $46,000 for a larger household.
  • "What it does for us is we don't have to invent a new test, invent a new bureaucracy or anything like that. It's an existing program. It's been in existence for quite some time. So we can just plug right into their database," Costello said.

    If seniors who are accustomed to paying nothing continue to ride the CTA, the combined savings to CTA, Metra, and Pace are estimated at $30 million a year.

    Ed Burtis takes the Metra. He said it won't change how he traves. "No. 'Cause otherwise I'd drive, and the drive is still going to cost me twice or three times as much with the price of gas," Burtis said.

    Residents who are currently in the free rides program, can just wait for your new senior card in the mail. But if those who are not already enrolled will have to apply with RTA or the Circuit Breaker program.

    RTA: Seniors Ride Free Program,

    Illinois Dept. on Aging: Circuit Breaker,

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