Senior citizens could lose free rides on CTA

February 28, 2009 7:51:06 AM PST
The Illinois legislature is playing with the idea of ending free rides for some seniors on public transportation.A new bill would link the free fares to a rider's income.

Former Governor Rod Blagojevich added the free ride program to a mass transit tax increase bill in January of 2008.

But that program is costing Chicago area transit agencies about $58 million this year.

Loretta Mann is waiting for the bus. Since the seniors ride free program begin, Loretta figures she's been saving about $100 a month in transportation costs.

"It's a wonderful program. I think it should continue. I know about the money problems, but I think it should continue," said Loretta Mann, CTA senior passenger.

At the same time, Loretta, a retired nurse, thinks seniors who can afford to pay for their mass transit rides should. State Rep Suzie Bassi agrees.

"The number of seniors and baby boomers who are about to become seniors would absolutely bankrupt the system," said State Rep. Suzie Bassi, (R) Palatine.

The CTA now figures that the Seniors Ride Free program amounts to over $38 million in lost revenue ? $15 million for Metra and $3 million for Pace.

Bassi is proposing legislation that would return the Senior ride fare structure to where it was before what she calls "Rod Blagojevich's publicity stunt." Income level would determine who rides for free.

"This would allow low income or disabled seniors to ride for free and all the rest of seniors can ride at half fare," said Bassi.

Similar legislation passed the House last year, but was never called in the Senate. The new Senate president says he's open to the concept of changing Seniors Ride Free though he stops short of endorsing any legislation to achieve it.

The new governor, however, made it clear on Friday that he is opposed to ending Seniors Ride Free.

"I'm not really interested in going to that program and slashing it. I think free rides for seniors is a basic public policy that we can support and maintain even in tough economic times," said Gov. Pat Quinn.

With Governor Quinn saying he would not sign a bill ending the current all seniors ride free, some legislators say the Bassi bill may be a nonstarter. But it has a reading next week in Springfield and there are a number of legislators who say they want to talk about the issue.