CHICAGO (STMW) – The RTA says it is taking steps to minimize the fraudulent use of passes meant to allow senior citizens to ride free on the CTA, Metra and Pace.

But a top RTA official said Thursday that the problem is being compounded by the ways many seniors use the cards.

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“We saw that there was high exposure (to fraud) of a very, very high magnitude,” said RTA Deputy Executive Director Grace Gallucci, who has been charged with curbing fraud in the program, the cost of which she estimated at up to $1.4 million a year.

Gallucci said some of the problems occurred because of the speed with which then, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and lawmakers mandated the program to begin, 60 days after the passage of legislation in January 2008. For instance, she said, while each card has a photo, the card does not bear the name of the senior to whom it is issued.

The RTA is checking death notices and Social Security databases, and Gallucci said it is taking proactive steps to deactivate the cards of riders known to be dead. But Gallucci said curbing fraud is sometimes difficult simply because many seniors are holding onto two cards: their free-ride card, and their old half-fare card.

She said the RTA initially found that “suspicious” because it was so widespread, but said further investigation found two recurring reasons for doing so “that are very legitimate.” She said some senior citizens hold onto the old half-fare cards simply because they have monetary value. And she said some seniors hold onto both cards because if they forget where one of the cards is, they still have the other.

Gallucci said that while nearly 400,000 Chicago-area senior citizens have registered for free ride cards, about 175,000 senior half-fare cards remain in circulation.

In an initial sample of 3,142 cards, the RTA found 164 being used fraudulently, about 5.2 percent of the total. She said some cards were used fraudulently just once. One card was used fraudulently 1,411 times.

The study found that the average was 155 fraudulent rides per card.

The problem is worst at C-T-A ‘L’ stations, where Gallucci said more riders will see their fare cards examined. And she said she wants more than 60 days warning if lawmakers change the program.

Re-equipping Chicago-area senior citizens with new smart cards, under any scenario, would cost about $2 million, she said. If done, she said, it would only be a short-term expedient. RTA is hoping to move the CTA, Metra and Pace over the next two years to a fare-collection system that makes use of standard credit cards, eliminating the need for a dedicated RTA card. The CTA is expected to recommend in 2011 a credit card partner who is expected to pay the majority of the costs of
new fare-collection equipment.

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