Legislature finally ends free rides for most senior citizens

A bill to allow free transit rides only for low-income seniors has been sent to Gov. Quinn for his signature after the state Senate passed the bill on a 54-2 vote on Monday. The House had OKed it on Saturday 95-15.

The bill would allow seniors who qualify for the state's Circuit Breaker aid program to continue to ride free, while all others would pay half price. Here are the income limits for the Circuit Breaker program:

  • $27,610 for a household of one.
  • $36,635 for a household of two.
  • $45,657 for a household of three.

There was no word from Quinn's office on whether he would sign it. Before the election he said he would veto such a bill. But hey, the election's over, and the state is about to raise the income tax to 5%, so maybe they're trying to get a little bit of that back for transit agencies. After all, the more in their coffers, the less they need to give Metra and the CTA. The CTA has estimated free rides cost the agency about $35-$40 million per year.

Judging from the huge margin by which the bill passed both houses, any possible veto would probably be overturned.

*****************
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • 1. According to Clout Street, according to Donnie Trotter, with Circuit Breaker provision left in, it won't make much of a difference. Metra might lose a couple of discretionary riders, but I doubt that the CTA attracts affluent seniors anyway. One also has to carve out the number that would use paratransit in any event.

    2. I was surprised that the legislature would put this on Quinn's desk to embarrass him, after Cullerton arranged to have this deep sixed last year. But, I guess that since Quinn now has his 4 year term, maybe being a liar on several fronts doesn't bother him. I'm sure his supporters are proud.

    3. With the story about user fraud in the program, anyway, how are they going to get the free transit cards back from those who apparently would no longer qualify in July, 2011?

  • In reply to jack:

    Metra might lose a couple of discretionary riders, but I doubt that the CTA attracts affluent seniors anyway.
    1. there is a huge gap between Circuit-Breaker level and affluent. And on an anecdotal level, I would challenge your assumption about affluent CTA riders. Have you ever seen the number of fur coats or custom-tailored fine wool coats that are worn out of the Lyric Opera (mostly matinees) and go straight to the nearest CTA stops? I was amazed how many people took transit after the opera.

    I'm sure his supporters are proud.
    2. Not a supporter, but damn straight I'd be proud of the man for changing his mind and getting rid of a wasteful program.

    how are they going to get the free transit cards back from those who apparently would no longer qualify in July, 2011?
    3. Have you seen one of those free cards? I wonder if they have the chip in them like Chicago Cards do? Then they can just turn off access. Or maybe they will just issue a different-looking free ride cards - especially now since there is different criteria?

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I agree with District that there are probably more middle income seniors riding free than Jack thinks. And note I said middle-income, not affluent.

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I agree with District that there are probably more middle income seniors riding free than Jack thinks. And note I said middle-income, not affluent.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, the free cards are smart cards, so they likely could be deactivated, I would guess.

    And I think you will be losing more than a few riders. If the CTA is correct in their estimates, $35-40 mil is a lot of revenue lost each year. Even if they are exaggerating, there is still a lot of revenue being lost.

    And I didn't vote for the guy, but I would be very pleased if he signed off on this. This was a silly program instituted by Blago. If I remember correctly, Blago was holding transit funding hostage unless this was passed.

  • In reply to nerdysciencegirl:

    I'll acknowledge that the cards can be deactivated. But then consider the expense of having to reissue the cards, and the fights on the bus when someone challenges a driver if the driver says that the card is no longer valid. If a driver even would.

    As far as the amount saved, it always appears that CTA says that so many free rides were given, so we lost a half fare on each. That ignores the rule of economics that there will be less demand if it isn't free. And, if Trotter is correct, a lot of seniors will still get free rides, even if the mink set going to the Opera doesn't.

    Finally, nerdysciencegirl and District 299 Reader, I wasn't referring to you about being pleased, since you say you didn't vote for Quinn. I'm talking about those who voted for Quinn, because of the giveaways like this.

    And, for AB, it probably is as great of a move as the legislature voting for unconstitutional medical malpractice reform, an ineffective 2008 RTA bill, or putting a recall amendment on the ballot that has so many conditions that it can never be used. You have been defrauded again. Just wait for the next round of service cuts.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack,

    You're right that the demand will go down when it's not free, but it's not necessarily going to go back to the way it was if some people found they like using the CTA and didn't use it before it was free. Hard to say how large that amount is until the law take effect.

  • In reply to jack:

    So you'd rather not have this bill? Keeping free rides would be better?

    It's one or the other, jack...

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    No it isn't. They could go back to everyone pays half fare. In fact, they could limit half fares to nonrush hour, according to federal law.

    BTW, are you enjoying your rights under the recall amendment?

  • In reply to jack:

    So is that your preferred option? Fine, pitch it. My point is that this is much better than everybody rides free. Again, do you disagree?

    Not sure how your question above is relevant... Did I say something about being a big supporter of the recall amendment? Or are you just conflating support for one particular policy with a blanket endorsement of everything the legislature/governor has ever done?

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    No, as I said before, apparently you are easily duped by what the legislature and governor have done and continue to do. If you want more on my views about that, look at my comments at Chicago Political Commentary today.

    And, as I pointed out at the beginning, it is not much better than everyone rides free, especially if one believes Trotter. Maybe in response to Chris, I would like to see how much money this actually brings in, if it does go into effect.

    Meantime, weren't you the one who posted a couple of months ago that everything would be better if there were more "funding," even though the legislature imposed more taxes in 2008? The world out there is not Pollyanna, especially in Illinois.

  • In reply to jack:

    I could really care less about your political views, so I'm not going to sift through comments on another blog.

    I also don't see where you pointed out that it's not much better. And since you have no evidence of that, I think we should wait for the data (it is, of course, an empirical question).

    MY point is that there are two options here - keeping free rides for all seniors or limiting free rides. I'm in favor of the latter. I don't think you've ever addressed this, but instead continue to whine about why it's not perfect.

    And you're correct, I do think the CTA would be in better shape with more funding (why put it in quotes?). You act as if the 2008 law actually led to the agency receiving more money - the opposite is true. The CTA received $92.5mm LESS in public funds in 2010 than in 2008 (http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/going-public/2010/09/cta-proposed-budget-no-fare-hikes-service-cuts.html).

    I've never said the CTA is perfect, but I know it's underfunded. Without fixing that, the city and region are in for a rough future.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    There are plenty of ladies who lunch who ride the Lake Shore Drive express buses as well.

  • In reply to jack:

    You can always count on jack to criticize somebody for making a move that he probably supports...

    You should ride the 156 or the 22 through the Gold Coast. I can guarantee that there are quite a few affluent seniors riding the CTA. This is a great move - thank God it's been passed

Leave a comment