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CHICAGO (CBS) – Like it or not, the end is in sight for free rides for more than half of the Chicago area’s senior citizens.
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports, later Monday, the Regional Transportation Authority hosts the first of a dozen public hearings, over 11 days, on the change.
RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer said the hearings are merely information and will not change anything. Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation into law making the change, guidelines have been established and the Sept. 1 changeover date has been set.
Palmer said the agency has purchased new fare cards that will be distributed to all 440,000 seniors who currently have a free ride card.
“Any senior currently holding a free ride permit will automatically receive a card,” Palmer said.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Bob Roberts reports
And Palmer said all the RTA can do is tell critics that the existing plan, put in place at the insistence of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich when the RTA sought a bailout in 2008, simply cost too much.
“If we continued on, allowing all seniors, regardless of income, to continue to ride for free, that certainly would be unsustainable for the transit system,” she said, citing a 2010 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Only low-income seniors enrolled in the state of Illinois Circuit Breaker program will be eligible for free rides after Sept. 1. By federal law, other seniors will pay half fare, as they did before the changeover.
About 60 percent of the seniors who now ride for free are expected to have to pay under the revisions to the program, Palmer said. The RTA expects to generate $30 million a year in fares from the change.
The RTA is being proactive in trying to find those who are eligible for the free rides. Palmer said last week that the transit oversight agency has written 150,000 Chicago-area seniors who belong to the Circuit Breaker program but do not have the existing free ride cards, inviting them to apply.
Monday’s hearing begins at 2 p.m. at the Sheldon Heights Church, 11325 S. Halsted St.
On Tuesday, hearings are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., and at 4:30 p.m. at Pace headquarters, 550 W. Algonquin Rd., in Arlington Heights.
Other hearings include:
• Wednesday: 10:30 a.m., the South Suburban Mayors & Managers office, 1906 W. 147th St., in East Hazel Crest, and 4 p.m., at the Howard Mohr Center, 7640 W. Jackson Blvd., in Forest Park.
• Thursday: 10 a.m. at the DuPage County Office Building auditorium, 421 N. County Farm Rd., Wheaton; and 2 p.m. at the McHenry County administration building, 2nd floor, Conference Room A, 667 Ware Rd., in Woodstock.
• June 13: 10:30 a.m., at the Aurora Police Dept. community room, 1200 E. Indian Trail.
• June 14: 11.a.m., at the Austin Town Hall auditorium, 5610 W. Lake St.; and 2:30 p.m. at the Joliet City Council chambers, 150 W. Jefferson St.
• June 16: 10:30 a.m., at the Waukegan Public Library Bradbury Room, 128 N. County St., and 1:30 p.m., at the Levy Senior Center Linden Room, 300 Dodge Ave., Evanston.