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Ending Free Rides For Seniors Could Take Months

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(Photo Credit: Tim Boyle/ Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Tim Boyle/ Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Senior citizens continue to flood the RTA, CTA, Metra and Pace asking if their free ride cards are still good, in the wake of Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision Monday to sign legislation limiting the program to low-income seniors.

The answer is yes. WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports that the cards will remain good until the RTA can get new cards out to those who no longer qualify, a process that will take at least several months.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” RTA spokesperson Diane Palmer conceded.

Palmer said the RTA first has to procure new smart cards that can be loaded with fares. She said basic decisions have to be made — most notably, whether all 435,000 “Seniors Ride Free” cards will be reissued, or only cards held by those who will no longer qualify for free rides.

Those who qualify will have to meet the limitations of the state of Illinois’ Circuit Breaker program. The Circuit Breaker program is open only to those seniors who are single and whose total income is less than $27,610, couples whose income does not exceed $36,635 and families of three with an income of less than $45,657.

The measure signed by Quinn gives the RTA until mid-August to make the change, but Palmer said it’s likely that it can be done more quickly.

“We’re already hard at work,” Palmer said.

The RTA expects to derive $30 million a year in fares through the change in the law. An estimated 44 percent of seniors who currently ride free will continue to do so.

Palmer said those turning 65 or moving into the area who apply for cards in coming weeks will still be issued one that gives them free rides — at least temporarily.

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