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RTA To Spend $1.5 Million To Re-Equip Senior Fare Cards

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A Photo From RTA's 'Seniors Ride Free' Brochure. (RTA Photo)

A Photo From RTA’s ‘Seniors Ride Free’ Brochure. (RTA Photo)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) — The Regional Transportation Authority’s decision to re-equip senior citizens throughout the Chicago area with new fare cards, because of new limits on free rides, won’t be cheap.

It’s the second time in just more than three years that seniors have had to get new cards.

Re-equipping seniors with free ride smart cards in 2008 cost more than $2 million.

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RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. said Thursday that re-quipping seniors now with older technology–a magnetic stripe card that will either give seniors a free ride or charge half fare– will cost another $1.5 million, which includes the cost of purchasing, producing and mailing the new cards

Some would say it’s spending money to make money, but RTA board member Jan Carlson is upset.

He angrily waved his soon-to-be-deactivated free ride card and said the program was a mistake that cost Chicago-area transit agencies tens of millions of dollars a year for three and a half years.

“What a waste of the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Existing free ride cards will work until Sept. 1. The RTA is urging low-income seniors who are not enrolled in the state Circuit Breaker program to do so because it’s the only proof the RTA will accept when determining need.

RTA spokesperson Diane 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 stopgap 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.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the change in the law, which former Gov. Rod Blagojevich added at the last minute to the 2008 revision of the RTA Act.

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

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