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Can City Continue To Afford Free Senior Bus Service?

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North Park Village Shuttle

The North Park Village shuttle has served senior housing residents for 20 years, but can the city still afford it? (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s a program loved by all who use it.

But its users primarily come from one small section of the city.

That’s why some wonder whether the North Park Village shuttle bus service is a program whose time is up, CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports.

For the past two decades, residents of the senior housing complex in the sprawling North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Rd., have been lining up to board buses that zip them around the 150 acre complex that is home to 550 residents in the Senate and Prete senior housing developments, and more than a few deer.

Residents say the shuttle is a lifeline because the buildings can be as much as 3/4 of a mile from the nearest CTA stop.

“It’s good. It’s very good,” resident Pat Jones said of service that shuttles senior residents from building to building in the sprawling complex five days a week for eight hours a day.

And what’s even better: It’s free.

“I’ve been here for seven years and it’s always been free,” said resident Vally Carr.

Whether it’s summer, winter, fall or spring, the senior shuttle is always there making its short loop around North Park Village over and over again.

Over the past 13 years, Lucille Hickey has come to depend on the service.

“It’s great. When it snows and it’s icy, we wouldn’t be able to go out,” said Hickey.

But what’s free for the low-income residents comes at a considerable cost for the city.

CBS 2 estimates that the service has cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million over the past two decades when you add up salary, fuel, maintenance and equipment costs.

CBS 2 asked Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) for comment but she wasn’t available. But some of the users credit her for supporting the program.

“She’s the one that keeps the bus going,” said Jones.

A city spokesman responded with a written statement that said in part that the shuttle bus at North Park Village is consistent with the city’s mission to enhance the quality of life for Chicago’s seniors.

Still, tax watchdogs aren’t sure the city can afford the senior shuttle.

“This is a laudable program but can we maintain something like this at this scale?” wondered Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Executive Director Cindi Canary.

Canary said she thinks this is one of the many programs that mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and the new city council will have to look at as they attempt to fill a massive budget hole.

She predicts that there will have to be widespread cutting and scaling back of programs that have long been cherished by those who use them.

CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall contributed to this report.

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