CHICAGO (CBS) — New RTA fare cards are going out to 427,000 Chicago-area seniors sooner than expected.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports, existing fare cards will be deactivated Sept. 1, when the Seniors Ride Free program ends. In its place, 52,000 low-income seniors will get new cards that will continue to allow them to ride for free. The other 375,000 will get fare cards that require half fare payment.

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LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

Seniors will be able to put up to $100 of fares on a card at a time, said Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Joe Costello. The cards can be recharged at CTA ‘L’ stations, Jewel or Dominick’s supermarkets, at area Walmart stores and at most currency exchanges.

The new program, dubbed “Circuit Ride Free,” ties eligibility for free rides on the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace by senior citizens to eligibility for the state of Illinois Circuit Breaker program. Depending on household size, the limits range between $27,610 and $45,567 a household.

Any senior citizen who does not receive a new fare card by Aug. 15 should contact the RTA Customer Service Center at (312) 913-3110.

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Seniors must load fare value on their cards before using them. Fare value can be added at CTA vending machines or at a variety of grocery stores or currency exchanges, The RTA said.

The cards will be “live” the moment they arrive, said RTA spokesperson Diane Palmer, allowing senior citizens to use either card during the month of August.

The CTA, Pace and Metra will use the half-fare cards differently. Seniors can pay fares with the cards on CTA and Pace, although Pace also will accept cash payment from those who merely show the card. Metra riders will produce the card and pay a ticket agent or conductor the required fare.

Since-deposed and convicted 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.

Earlier this year, the RTA said it would generate more than $30 million a year in additional revenues by resuming half-fare collection.

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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.