Seniors’ Free Rides Now In Quinn’s Hands

CHICAGO (WBBM) — Legislation that would restrict free mass transit rides to low-income Illinois senior citizens is awaiting action by Gov. Pat Quinn., who previously has defended free rides for all seniors.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports, the Regional Transportation Authority said Tuesday that it hopes to change Quinn’s mind, but officials have no idea what Quinn is thinking.

Quinn threatened repeatedly last fall to veto the bill if it landed on his desk. It has, and new RTA Executive Director Joe Costello is at a loss to say what Quinn intends to do now, despite efforts to meet with Quinn and his staff.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

“We got no assurance from the governor — no assurance one way or the other,” Costello said Tuesday.

Costello said legislative leaders could not provide transit officials with any insight, either.

Although the bill passed the Illinois House 95-15 and the Senate 54-2, a Quinn veto would stick because the new General Assembly, which was seated Wednesday, cannot vote to override the veto of legislation passed by the old legislature.

Costello hopes to lobby Quinn personally, as well as his staff, and said even at the low end of RTA projections, the fares that would be generated is money that transit systems need.

“$33-34 million? That’s real money. That would go a long way,” he said.

Projections in a University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) study released last year indicated that the revenue gained could be anywhere between $33 and $112 million a year. The UIC study called the existing program, enacted in March 2008 at the insistence of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, “unsustainable.”

By contrast, Quinn signaled quickly that he intends to sign the bill giving the state of Illinois’ executive inspector general the power to investigate Chicago-area transit agencies.

The bill would limit eligibility for senior free rides to those who qualify for the state of Illinois Circuit Breaker program. Circuit Breaker benefits are allocated only to individuals who make less than $27,610 a year, households of two with earnings of $36,635 or less and households of three with income of $45,657 or less.

It would give transit agencies 180 days to implement the means test, although it remains unclear if all seniors who do not qualify for free rides would be issued new half-fare cards immediately or if they would simply trade in their existing free-ride cards for half-fare cards as they expire.

The cards are programmed to expire automatically four years after being issued. Federal law requires that those over 65 be charged no more than half fare.

Reaction from senior citizens is mixed. Some say that they are willing to pay half fare. Others are angered by the legislation.

“No matter what money you’re taking in or what the situation is with the senior free ride pass, you’re going to have a big uprising from all the seniors with that bill,” said Charlie Yale, a retired CTA employee and frequent transit critic.

The number of cards being issued has slowed dramatically over the past year but continues to climb. RTA statistics show that, as of Tuesday, it had issued 434,582 free ride cards to Chicago-area senior citizens, up from 426,500 in November, 396,000 at the end of 2009 and 247,000 at the end of 2008.

  • Henry M. Morris

    The respective trains and/or buses will continue to move per their schedule from terminal to terminal. Whether they carry seniors or not will have no effect on this fact. The buses and trains will still move over these routes on their schedules.
    So, what difference does it really make if the seniors are carried, or not, to CTA?
    To the senior, however, paying or riding free can make a whole lot of difference.
    The Governor should not sign the bill

  • Evie

    Why does everyone hit the Seniors. They have done enough and now its time for them to enjoy life a little. This state gives and then takes away. Health care for seniors and disabled is awful and the politicians still want to take more and more away from the people who really need it. Why cant they take from themselves and leave the disabled and seniors alone. I don’t see them taking pay cuts or taking health care cuts. They know they will continue to receive their pay checks and health care when they retire so they dont worry about what life they will have when its time to retire. LEAVE THE SENIORS AND DISABLED ALONE FOR GOD SAKES.

  • Nick

    I question the statistics. I have had this card for about 2 years and only used it once. Don’t get out much due to my disability. But when I did use it for a Metra round trip, the conductor didn’t count it in any fashion, like clicking a counter or making any note of it. So, are the usage numbers based on how many cards have been issued and then assuming they have been used X number of days per week/month, etc?

  • Dave

    This is a no-brainer – cancel the program ASAP.

    The free rides for seniors was a maneuver by a governor who was knew he was in trouble and only implemented this to curry favor among a voting bloc – at a time when the state was strapped for cash.

    Means testing is fine as long as we weed out the millionaire who have been getting free rides.

    • PAUL

      You don’t get it do you DAVIE it is always on the back of seniors you are probably still wet behind the ears the way you talk.

  • Legato1

    If they don’t get rid of this program. Fares will increase higher than expected. to pickup the costs. Demographics show that we will have increaing percentage of seniors. So the ones that pay, will pay higher fares. Similar to shoplifting, the customers pay for the losses in their purchases.

  • Eric

    I think seniors should have to pay something- like a fity percent fare. People are having their state income taxes increase 66% and seniors want a free ride…. how is this fair to the average citizen? Its not!

  • Seniors' Free Rides Now In Quinn's Hands « CBS Chicago – Breaking … | Proctor

    […] a leggere: Seniors' Free Rides Now In Quinn's Hands « CBS Chicago – Breaking … Tags: remains-unclear, schedule, schedules, […]

  • Norman Janowicz

    Seniors paid property taxes to support schools when their children were going to school. Now, seniors continue to pay property taxes for everyone else’s children’s cost of education even though their own children are no longer in school. So what’s the problem? Why not return some of the senior’s taxes being paid for other people’s children by letting them ride free. After all, they earned it! Just remember, all you people complaining about this will probably be seniors yourselves, someday.

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