Most seniors enjoying free rides will pay half fare starting Sept. 1

The end is now in sight: Senior citizens will no longer be taking a Free Ride as of Sept. 1, despite Edgar Winter’s exhortations.

At least, most seniors no longer will be benefiting from the charity of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich – unless they qualify for the state’s Circuit Breaker program.

The Regional Transportation Authority announced Wednesday that free-ride passes would no longer be accepted on the CTA, Metra or Pace transit systems starting Sept. 1. The state Legislature formally ended Blago’s free-ride gift to seniors early this year.

Seniors who qualify for the state’s Circuit Breaker
aid program will continue to ride free after Sept. 1, 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.

All three agencies stand to gain at least $30 million a year more in fare dollars with the change, the Tribune reported. About 25,000 out of 440,000 who registered for free rides are estimated to qualify for free rides under the Circuit Breaker program.

Through March of this year, free rides totaled 17.1 million on the CTA, according to the most recent financial report. There were 76 million free rides last year. Turning those free rides into cash should help Forrest Claypool a little bit on his 2012 budget.


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  • I'm going to guess that it will be a lot more than 25,000 that will still qualify for the free rides.
    I'll make it closer to 100,000.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I've seen the 25,000 number before, but this is the first time I have seen out of "how many."

    Pace had sent out that the RTA was cross matching its database of free ride pass holders with the Circuit Breaker database, and there were 25,000 matches, so they get the new free mag strip cards, and the other 415,000 get the half fare cards. Then the existing cards would be invalidated.

    This at least explained how it would be implemented, which I asked several months ago. I'm surprised that they came up with a technology solution that didn't require reapplying with the RTA.

    However, what puts the fuzz into the numbers is that one has to be registered for the Circuit Breaker program, which means that one wanted a break on property taxes, license plates or pharmaceuticals. Assuming that, for instance, someone didn't own their own property or live in a nursing home, but now has a transit reason for signing up (because he or she received a half fare card), undoubtedly the number now registering for the Circuit Breaker program will go up. How far, who knows, but it doesn't appear as bad as I first thought.

    The disabled who qualify would also be in the Circuit Breaker program, but there has been no evidence so far that free rides has reduced the demand for and cost of paratransit.

    Anyway, the subjects of yesterday's haiku probably are not paying a fare, anyway.

  • It should be interesting to see how many do actually apply. There may be 100,000 who "qualify," but they have to take the step to apply and get the free rides card.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    And also figure out that they can't "apply for a free rides card" but have to fill out IL 1363, which says "Remember: You must file each year!"

    They say there will be an educational program before the switch, but I wonder how many will want to stay willfully uneducated and show up at the RTA first. I also wonder if the RTA will cross match every year, and invalidate cards that no longer match, but also tending to prevent use by friends of the dead (which was also reported with regard to the current ones).

  • It should be interesting to see how many do actually apply. There may be 100,000 who "qualify," but they have to take the step to apply and get the free rides card.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I wonder if this will cause any problems, along the lines of annoyed seniors barking at bus drivers or such. For the record, I support the rolling back of this program, as it is something we can't afford now.

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