Staff helps seniors at CTA stops

September 1, 2011 9:36:42 AM PDT
Most seniors have to pay for public transportation again starting Thursday morning after the free ride plan put into place by former governor Rod Blagojevich was cut to save money.

Some seniors will still qualify for the free rides, and all seniors are eligible for a discount. The changes may be confusing, so Chicago Transit Authority representatives were staffing train stations to help explain.

"What you want to do is to add value and money to this card. Add it to this card. You put this one in, and you are done," one rail instructor says, helping senior riders understand the new program. The senior reduced rate picture I.D. must be inserted in the top of the turnstile area and can be used as a CTA pass with money on it.

It charges 85 cents per ride and 15 cents a transfer. The regular price is $2.25.

"All seniors should have received in the mail -- anyone who was getting a free ride -- a reduced fare permit. It is used in different ways in conjunction with other cards or stands alone by itself," said John Koldan, CTA rail instructor.

For some seniors that no longer qualify, scrapping the program seems unfair.

"To our stickers, every little thing, they are nickel and diming us. This is just another thing," said Joe Elias.

If you are just turning 65 or were never in the seniors ride free program, you did not get a reduced rate card in the mail. You can still get one by going downtown to the main office.

The blanket free rides program ended at midnight. By eliminating the program, the Regional Transit Authority hopes to save about $30 million a year.

"Seniors who got the reduced fare who didn't really need it got a big bonus that they didn't have coming," said CTA customer Joel Kaufmann.

Some seniors can still continue to get free rides if they have a low income. Officials estimate about 80,000 seniors in the Chicago area will qualify, but 300,000 have been dropped.

"I have a $9,000-a-year income. Now, I would like to know what the salaries of Roskam and Durbin and the other guy are, and why do the cuts come from the very poor?" said CTA customer Mary Onley.

"This is complicated information, but what we're trying to do is make sure the seniors get the information they need so they don't have interrupted service in terms of them being able to ride," said Diane Palmer, Regional Transportation Authority.

CTA officials will be at 26 train stations Thursday. They have identified those stations as areas of high senior citizen ridership.

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