No set date for end of free senior rides

February 17, 2011 4:25:06 AM PST
Free rides will come to an end for most senior citizens in the next six months, but it's not clear exactly when.

Lyle Hyde, who lives in Lincoln Park, just signed up for the program Wednesday -- even though he knows it's coming to an end soon.

"I turned 65 on Monday, February 14th. I came down to apply for the apparently rapidly disappearing free ride program," Hyde said.

Earlier this week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the free rides for all seniors -- but the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) isn't sure when the changes will actually go into effect and those transit cards will be invalid.

The RTA explained Wednesday that only low-income seniors 65 years and older will continue to receive the free rides. The rest will get reduced fares when they ride the CTA, PACE and Metra.

"It's a little annoying, but it's impossible to complain. I think the people who can afford to pay should pay something," Hyde said.

To qualify for the free rides:

  • Senior citizens over the age of 65 must be registered with the Illinois Department of Aging's Circuit Breaker Program, which requires one person makes less than $27,610 a year, a household of two makes less than $36,635, and a household of three or more makes less than $45,657. Chicagoans who are already part of the low-income program and have a free rides card can continue riding for free without interruption.

    "If you are in the Circuit Breaker program...and you already have an RTA senior rides free card, you won't have to do anything at all," Diane Palmer, RTA, said.

    All other seniors will have to say goodbye to their free rides card once the changes are implemented.

    "Enjoy that benefit of riding for free, because eventually you will not qualify. But be heartened to know you soon will be entitled to a reduced fare," Palmer said.

    The reduced senior fee on CTA and Pace is 85-cents. The fares vary on Metra depending on destination.

    "I know they need the money...and I do feel that it's only right that we who can afford to pay would pay a reasonable reduced rate," Don Parsons said. The Lincoln Park resident thinks the reduced senior fare is reasonable. "Yes, very reasonable."

    "I don't object to paying, it's still a reduced fare. But with this economy - it's getting to be a stretch," Hyde said.

    The RTA is still working on an actual end date to the program. Until that announcement comes, all seniors can use their free cards until further notice.

    The disabled free rides program remains the same.