Mass Transit almost a done deal

Gov. proposes free rides for seniors
January 11, 2008 4:47:07 PM PST
After months of wrangling, Illinois lawmakers reached a compromise on transit funding for the Chicago area. Now, transit officials have to make it work.The compromise includes a provision, created by Governor Rod Blagojevich, that lets senior citizens ride public transit for free. On Friday, he announced that he wants to expand the free rides to include those with disabilities. Business as usual: Gov., speaker trade jabs

The governor and house speaker are not bashful about zinging each other. After the governor announced his "seniors ride free" amendatory veto Thursday, Mike Madigan's office congratulated the governor for breaking a campaign promise not to raise taxes. On Friday afternoon the governor said Madigan should be happy with his 'seniors' plan because the speaker will now be able to ride mass transit for free.

Governor touts plans

After the jabs, the governor set out with friends to trumpet his amendatory veto that will allow seniors to ride the mass transit for free.

"You want to save money any way you can because you don't get a lot of money," said Pat Cerrito, CTA rider.

"We've contributed a lot, so we deserve a break today," said Justine Williams, CTA rider.

The governor's free rides for seniors plan caught legislators completely by surprise Thursday. Some applauded. Others wonder why he didn't propose it weeks ago in an effort to break the transit funding deadlock.

"There's a system down there and unfortunately, the best ideas sometimes come with a price. And my fear was if I proposed an idea like this early on, they would have held it out for pork projects or one legislative leader may not have called the bill," said Governor Rod Blagojevich.

The leaders in the state house and senate believe their members will go along with the governor's plan, and the transit deal - along with the regional sales tax hike that funds it - will become law. Then the mass transit agencies will have to figure out how to administer a program that would allow anyone 65 and over to ride for free. Right now they're not sure.

"We have the little clips in which you put your ticket on. In this case they would put their Medicare card on or driver's license on, they will get the tickets and punch the tickets and look at this and look at the person and say OK, you're 65. Ride free," said Phil Pagano, Metra Executive Director.

"I felt that at the end of the day I should keep my ace in the hole," said Blagojevich. "And it is not an ace of spades but an ace of hearts because it is a good thing to give them a free ride on trains and buses."

Metra raises fares 10-percent

Apart from dealing with the senior rides, the Metra board approved a ten-percent fare hike effective next month. Metra had said even with the new transit funding package it would need a fare hike to recoup money moved in recent years from its capital budget just to run the system. But the new transit money - if it's finalized - will hold the line on future hikes.

"Ten-percent is something we think under all the circumstances here is reasonable with to go forward. 30% is quite something else, isn't it?" said Carole Doris, Metra Board Chair.

Bill still on governor's desk

The Mass Transit Bill was sent to the governor's desk Thursday. He still has to add his amendatory veto, at which point it will be sent back to the House and Senate. They will then vote on the veto.

Legislative leaders said they think the bill with the amendatory veto will be accepted, the transit funding will be finalized and doomsday will be averted. Also, residents will pay more taxes.