House takes first step to means testing for seniors; savings from fewer free rides unclear

A House committee Thursday made the first move in restricting free rides by OK'ing a bill to give a free pass only to those senior citizens who would qualify for the state's circuit breaker program.

If the measure passed both the full House and Senate, it's unclear how much more money would flow into the CTA's coffers. But the CTA has reported that free rides this year in total will mean at least $30 million in lost revenue.

According to the Tribune's Clout Street blog:

Under the bill, senior citizens 65 and older would keep riding for free
if they qualify for the state's circuit breaker program. A one-person
household with an income of $27,610 would be eligible
under the guidelines. A two-person household could have
a maximum income of $34,635. The circuit breaker program is used to set
income guidelines to give seniors property tax relief and aid to buy
prescription drugs.

Interestingly, the measure is being pushed by a Democrat and a Republican who won't be running in the general election in November. State Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Wilmette, who chairs the House Mass Transit Committee, didn't run for re-election in the primary; she lost in her primary battle to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's seat.

On the Republican side, Rep. Suzanne Bassi of Palatine lost in the Republican primary last week to retain her seat.

Yes, this is an election year. That's why I predict this bill will not pass this year. As I've said before, senior citizens encompass a large voting bloc. They are involved. They go to the polls. Politicians know it, and don't want to piss them off in an election year.

Late last year, the Chicago Reader's Michael Miner had an interesting piece in his blog about just how much "those freeloading seniors really cost us". As he says, it's hard to pin down. The Clout Street story notes that Rep. Bassi thinks "applying means testing to the free ride program would generate between $37 million and $50 million."

I figure she means for the RTA in general, not just the CTA. But even if it were $15 million to $20 million more for the CTA, that could be a few restored express buses or later end times for other routes.


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  • I also picked up that they were lame ducks who were pushing this.

    However, if the powers to be are so scared about doing anything during an election year, we'll get to November with a possibly $25 billion accumulated state deficit for the fiscal years starting July 1, 2009 and 2010, CTU acting like ATU (if you think CTA is a crisis, just wait until the schools blow up for not getting their state aid, as reported on Channel 2.1 last night), social service providers dumping all of their wards onto the street, and, of course, lousy bus service. Illinois voters may be dumb enough to tolerate all of that, but I doubt it.

    Quinn asking permission to put off the Budget Address (2105 Poorhouse Avenue, Springfield, Illinois 62705-3149) until March still gives me the feeling that he is trying to sample the waters for a big tax increase. Of course, as Todd Stroger points out, you have to do that early, since you can't do it during an election year.

    On the merits of Free Rides, while I bet that the transit authorities are estimating that most of the free riders will pay half fare, simple economics indicates that won't be the case. However, at least it would get those who are unwilling to pay off the overcrowded buses.

  • My 85-year-old father just received his Chicago Card Plus in the mail. He didn't feel right about riding free after the service cuts. Plus now he doesn't have to hear his youngest daughter yammer on about how he has allowed himself to be Blago's pawn.

  • Well, I hope it passes, or even gets to a vote. Something needs to be done and this is at least reasonable...

  • The problem that I have with such figures is that they are based on the idea that everyone who had a free ride would have paid for a ride as opposed to not taking a ride. Since the buses and trains run anyway, its not about savings. I am aware of at least a few senior citizens from the suburbs who came downtown only because their transportation was free (as in had it not been for the free rides, they would not have paid because they would not have come).

    I am opposed to free rides, but I don't believe the figures.

  • In reply to eBob:

    You don't take into account that perhaps these free rides served as good promotion for the CTA to people who had not ridden it before. Now that they have to pay for it, they may see value in paying only 1/2 fare.

  • In reply to eBob:

    If you want the House to vote on it then we (then non-65+ crowd) need to hammer their offices with letters telling them what you want. Because you know the "we want free rides" lobby is doing exactly that.
    For the politicians it will come down to which side has the most votes in November...

  • I have a friend who spends at least a $100 a week to see a therapist who does nothing more than tell him he is a person of worth. And yet he glories in the fact that he doesn't have to pay the ride CTA downtown and back.

    I also see on the CTA, old black ladies loaded down with a couple of grocery bags because they live in food deserts on the south and west side of the cities.

    There's something very, very wrong with these pictures...

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