Free Rides For Seniors To End Labor Day

CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS)– The free ride will come to an end late this summer for more than 260,000 Chicago-area senior citizens.

WBBM Newsradio 780 has learned that the Regional Transportation Authority will transition from the 3-year-old system under which all senior citizens ride free to a half-fare system for the majority of senior citizens “around Labor Day.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts Reports

RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer said Wednesday that all 440,000 of the Seniors Ride Free smart cards will be replaced by three batches of magnetic-stripe cards currently on order.

The move comes two months after Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that ended the policy of letting all senior citizens ride free on mass transit systems. Now, elderly people above a certain income level will have to pay.

Palmer said RTA could not procure enough smart cards on such short notice, so seniors instead will be issued one of two magnetic-stripe cards similar to the older, flexible plastic cards used by Chicago Transit Authority and Pace, which must be inserted into turnstiles.

Those who qualify for free rides under guidelines established by the state of Illinois Circuit Breaker program will continue to get free rides. Other senior citizens will revert to paying half fare, the maximum allowed under federal law.

For a single person, the income level to qualify for free rides is $27,610 a year. In a two-person household, it will be $36,635.

Palmer said the new cards will go into the mail around Aug. 1, and that the RTA will allow a month for everyone to receive them.

The cards are intended as a stop-gap until the CTA, Metra and Pace convert to a universal fare card system, most likely based on credit cards, that could occur as early as next year.

The new restrictions on the Seniors Ride Free program will be tied to an extensive public relations campaign expected to run most of the summer.

Since-disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich demanded a law allowing seniors to ride free in exchange for passing a state transit funding bill at the beginning of 2008. The free ride program was expanded to include the disabled and active duty members of the military in October 2008.

The RTA said last year free rides for seniors and the disabled costs the local transit system between $37.7 million and $116.2 million in lost revenue in 2009.

Now the RTA expects to generate more than $30 million a year in additional revenues by resuming half-fare collection.

Quinn had previously favored keeping the free service, and last fall repeatedly threatened to veto the bill if it landed on his desk. But he ended up changing his mind.

  • john

    I guess I’m back to driving downtown every day next fall. Oh, well I never did like the idea of public transportation.

    • anyomous

      With the cost of gas = driving will like cost more.


      I am tired of reading about the RTA complaining about how
      much free senior rides are costing them.

      The free rides are costing them nothing!

      They came to the state asking for free money to support their operating
      costs. They were granted public money under the stipulation
      that as part seniors would receive free rides. Thus it cost the RTA
      nothing and they are money ahead.

      If they didn’t like the idea of free rides why did they accept the grant?

      • Brian S.

        Because they would’ve had to carry out their doomsday cuts otherwise, time was running short. Blagojevich threw Free Rides in only as a d-bag stunt to get some extra votes at a time when he knew he was going down the tubes. If Blago doesn’t jump in like an a-hole at that time, we don’t end up with these problems.

        Of course, if transit were funded properly here in the US like it is in European and East Asian countries, we wouldn’t have these problems to begin with.

  • La Professoressa

    A lot of us with heavy medical expenses who are too “rich” to qualify for Circuit Breaker will be back to walking most places. But we’ll remember you, Governor Quinn, and we’ll remember how well you keep your promises with every step.

  • Jim at half fare

    Mr .Potter got nothing on this tax crazed Democrat.

  • sara ruiz

    I hate GOV Quinn i hope he Goes soon!!!!

  • sally quinn

    I truly hope that I qualify to keep , my card, becuse that is my only wayn I can go down town , chicago to the art and history musemun.

    • Gerald Spencer

      You can afford both the art institute and the field museum?

      • CECE


    • Brian S.

      Sally, if you can afford to go to places such as the Art Institute, Field Museum, and Chicago History Museum on a regular basis, then you can certainly afford to pay an 85 cent fare to ride a bus or a train.

  • Oscar Jimenez

    I will not vote for Gov. Quinn and whoever decided it.
    I will vote third party.

  • No more taxes

    The program was a two part law.
    The first part was an ADDITIONAL sales tax to every day purchases that would go dirrectly to RTA.
    The second part was since we all pay more in sales tax including seniors then seniors would ride for free.

    Seniors ridding for free is now gone………………The additional tax remains

    HOW does Wisconsin have 5 1/2% sales tax and 0% tax on food, NO toll road, public transportation and better concrete roads?
    How do they do it?

    Should Illinois find out and copy what they do?????



  • fix income senior

    I agree!!!

    I live in the far burbs near the IL/WI line.
    While I also pay the additional sales tax like everyone else,
    I have NO public transportaion.

    I do however shop in Wisconsin whenever possible and save BIG on sales tax.

  • working man

    May BE if the rich S,O.B would pay his taxs the seniors could keep the free rides.

    • Brian S.

      This is the root problem with funding for almost anything in this country. If billionaires actually paid their fair share in taxes, instead of trying to skirt their responsibilities to society, we wouldn’t have crumbling transportation systems of all kinds.

  • chuck

    All the seniors will remenber election day Gov.Quinn

  • Gerald Spencer

    A working senior, earning a six figure income gets free fare to commute from his/her suburban home to the city for work, gets a free ride. Why was that? What sense did that make? That should never have happened. The old system should never have changed, it should never have gone beyond reduced fare. People knew that wouldn’t continue.


      The last time I checked, the $27,000 income limits is not six figures!

    • john goldberg

      Where can I get this six figure job?

    • JayMakeSense

      THANK YOU Gerald! Finally somebody that appears to make some sense!! I don’t get how people are complaining over having to pay $1.50 for a train ride, or $0.85 for a bus pass… I realize times are hard but Blagobla8itch did no one a favor by forcing free rides for seniors. I’m all for the extremely poor getting a free pass, and those that can afford to pay a portion, should…. I’m not saying that all seniors need to pay what I, a 29 year old working adult, would have to pay. But when they’re reducing routes, taking seats out of trains to handle crowding on trains that run less, facing a continued deficit… um. yea.. Gramma… you might have to dig into ya pocketbook and jingle some change. Unfortunately, in these trying economic times, we all have to chip in our FAIR SHARE… myself included…Perhaps if we hadn’t given companies a free pass to ship jobs over seas, more people could work, more people could taxes (hopefully at a lower rate), and we could give free rides to EVERYBODY…

    • lalala

      ALL people should have to pay for rides…. NOTHING is free. It’s call REALITY. Welcome to a thing called l-i-f-e.

  • Sonya

    It’s about time this ended.

  • Sonya

    In addition, these free rides caused the cutbacks in service and increase in fares. Seniors always got a reduced rate and that’s the way it should continue. Thank you Gov. Quinn for doing this. Too many freebees being handed out on my dime. I’m tired of paying higher taxes. I barely get by on the little I make but I pay my own way.

  • Chicago Worker

    I am a hard worknig young adult and I respect my elders. I feel that we need to help those who need the help. Who among you are going to give a ride to the person who has to make it the best way they know how. Between medical needs and living needs (food, shelter, etc) the less fortunate is exactly that less fortunate. most seniors I’ve encountered on the bus don’t have 6 figure salaries. So lighten up. Governor will do what he wants regardless.

    • SMH

      I agree the people i ride with look like they can barely afford to eat. So if the bus fare is going to be restarted for senoirs maybe instead of 85 cent per ride thay can pay $1.00 for a one to two hour timefarame and this will help. just an idea (bring the transfers back for seniors only)

      • Senior just trying to make it

        Trnasfers sound like a better deal than a half price fare per ride. bring them back for the seniors and disabled



  • E Taylor

    I was able to start taking advantage of the free rides this past November. I have been able to go to Jewel Foods to pick up sale items without having to factor in the cost of a round trip bus ride. There is no Jewel Foods within walking distance of where I leive. We have a Treasure Island and another Centrella store. I’m thankful for the free rides thos far. I don’t make a 6 figure salary. If I did, I would have limo service> I don’t believe that ending the free rides on a grand scale will cause our taxes to decrease. Remember, the income tax was a TEMPORARY tax to finance WW1, so history tells us. I just hope that the transition back to half fares won’t cause too much of a SNAFU!!

  • Sammy

    Seriously….you have your entire life to save for retirement and when you don’t it’s on us. We are working hard, saving for our own retirement and paying for your freebies. Not to mention there won’t even be Social Security around for us by the time we get there. I’m not a Quinn fan….I’m not an Illinois fan-but I definitely see this as a step in the right direction!

    • Senior just trying to make it

      Sammy, I pray you live long enough to become a senior depending only on pension and social security. then weel see how you fill.

  • Mario

    What is riding the CTA coming to ? Senior Citizens have to now pay to ride CTA
    vehicles, one cannot ride and look out the windows of the new 5000 Zeries CTA
    rapid transit cars, and one has to put-up with surly CTA employees, especially
    bus drivers, and the females are worse of all.
    And why when the economy tanks it’s always the elderly who are blamed and
    are the first to lose benefits in an attempt to bring the crisis under control ?
    And as one poster wrote, Gov. Quinn signed the bill limiting Free Rides for
    seniors but the state is still going to keep that RTA tax money that was given.

  • rudy

    This whole thing was a Blago PR stunt for senior votes when he knew he was going down the toilet, it was a bad idea that costs way too much right now and it should go back to only those that qualify, end of stry

  • Carmella

    They got money for their perks and free gasoline for the fig shots and we seniors are gona suffer because this people feel we do not deserve a rife on the RTA?
    Fire all this people who are not able to run the RTA appropiately and those who have llife insurance and vacations paid in full and many other perks.
    We seniors have done our part in giving all our strenght to our economy and we only see those cuts that affect the personal lives of people who cannot work anymore. Specially the retired tieachers who are volunteers at local churches and are not able to go and do their jjobs.
    Please hire new people for the RTA
    Thanky you so much.

    • Brian S.

      Seniors aren’t losing their rides on trains and buses, they’ll just have to pay a little bit for them, and then only if they earn more than $27,000 per year. If you made sure to save for retirement, or kept yourself in good enough shape to so that you can work beyond the age of 65, you wouldn’t have to worry about this.

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