State shrinking Seniors Ride Free program

August 31, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The state is ending the controversial program Seniors Ride Free, created by former governor Rod Blagojevich.

Transit officials admit there will be a lot of confusion and have extended their hours and staffed extra people to help Wednesday.

At midnight, the free rides program will be available only to eligible low-income seniors in the state. More than 80,000 Chicago-area seniors will be able to ride for free because their income level will permit it, but four times that number, more than 300,000 who now ride free, will have to pay a reduced fare. The Regional Transit Authority says the end of Seniors Ride Free will add about $30 million in revenue.

Mary Onley says she qualifies for the free rides program.

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

Onley is one of many seniors who made their way to the RTA Customer Service Center, located at 165 North Jefferson, with questions about the new transit program.

"This is complicated information admittedly. But what we're trying to do is make sure the seniors get the information they need so they ideally don't have interrupted service in terms of them being able to ride," said said Diane Palmer, RTA deputy director of communications.

Joel Kaufmann said he thinks the change is fair.

"Seniors who did not really need the reduced fare got a big bonus that they did not have coming. I think it's reasonable to save the state's money for the people who really do need it," he said.

"Because there are some seniors that are making $100,000 a year and they're getting a free pass. No way," said Floyd Robinson, CTA customer.

Seniors can apply for a reduced fare card at the RTA center, which is open until 6 p.m. It takes seven to ten days to get the reduced card in the mail. Seniors eligible for the free rides program must apply through the Department of Aging. It takes four months for that application to be processed.

If you need information, call 312-913-3110.

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