Pressure mounts to dump free rides for seniors

An RTA study released Thursday predicts that by 2030 free rides for seniors and the disabled will cost the CTA, Pace and Metra more than $1 billion.

And a Republican lawmaker, State Rep. Suzie Bassi from Palatine, has promised to reintroduce a proposal to restrict free rides to low-income seniors.

From the Daily Herald report: “RTA leaders said they supported a system where free rides for seniors
would be triggered by the $22,200 per person income level. Revising the
rides policy could generate an estimated $37 million extra a year for
the CTA, Metra and Pace.”

This is good news. But folks, this year those changes won’t save a whole lot of money. We still need the unions to come to the table. But at least it’s a start.

Incidentally, Illinois’ top atheist and fellow ChicagoNow blogger, Rob Sherman, has a different opinion — he thinks we should keep the free rides. Read his take here.

Tattler Pub Crawl Saturday. Don’t forget to join us Saturday afternoon for the first CTA Tattler Pub Crawl. See this post for all the details. I want to show all the ChicagoNow bloggers and editors that the Tattler has a great following, so please help me do that.

The first stop is Sheffield’s Beer and Wine Garden. Look for me wearing a ChicagoNow T-shirt and for others wearing buttons and stickers. And I will buy the first drink for anyone who shows up at Sheffield’s.

So be there! I want to meet y’all.


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  • We should not be demanding that workers take a hit. We should be demanding that society adequately fund a vital public service. Raise the state gas tax to close the gap - it's been declining for the last 20 years and the price of gas is much lower than it was before the crash. Meanwhile the damage done by driving - environmental destruction and traffic congestion - has only been growing.

  • "We still need the unions to come to the table"- good luck.

    Jake-"We should not be demanding that workers take a hit."- Well yes we should if their relative cost is unreasonable looking at other cities.

    I do agree with a raised gas tax but not to fund higher wages to unions who already gouge the city/CTA/RTA/state

  • I've been gratified to see some state politicians reconsidering those free rides. It would make sense to rescind or restrict them, but maybe it'll happen anyway.

  • No one likes to be against the elderly, but $3 a ride? You've got to be kidding me. It's truly a decision between bad and worse. Except I don't know which is which.

  • Richard, if you have some evidence that CTA workers are overpaid, go ahead and supply it. But comparing to conditions in other cities, even assuming that CTA workers make a lot more, doesn't show anything. Workers in those other cities could just as easily be underpaid as CTA workers being overpaid.

    Rather than encouraging a war of each against all, we should recognize that all hourly workers have seen their wages stagnate for the last 30 years while the incomes of the wealthy have multiplied many times over, taking the lion's share of productivity improvements in that period. That social wealth ought to be distributed more fairly, either by increasing the strength of labor or by sharply raising taxes on the rich to fund vital public services. Progressive taxation in Illinois or higher gas taxes are both viable revenue sources to close the CTA's budget gap. There is no need to assault workers.

  • In reply to razetheladder:

    I have no evidence that CTA workers are overpaid. However, they have pensions and while not overpaid in the strict sense of the word, a guaranteed obligation plan is simply a killer - ask GM, they'll tell you. Why should "social wealth be distributed more fairly"? I am of the opinion that there is nothing more fair than keeping what you've earned. I would love to hear your argument how taking from one and giving to another is fair. Also, how would you "increase the strength of labor"? Again, I don't have any stats to back this up, but it's widely known that union government employees are paid well above private sector wages.

  • In reply to fivetriple0:

    I hope it makes you feel better to know that I am a union CTA bus operator, and I'm struggling mightily to make ends meet. However, I was recently speaking with my mom, she's in healthcare, and was telling me about many of the doctors she deals with on a regular basis who commute in from places like Naperville and Evanston, and despite their $200+thousand salaries, they ride to work free every day because they are seniors. Is it possible this type of thing is having a larger impact that union employees such as myself who can barely afford groceries?

  • In reply to fivetriple0:

    Wages are determined by how much bargaining power you have on the market, not how important your work is to society or how much value you create or anything like that. Professionals' bargaining power comes from possessing scarce skills and from professional associations that keep up wages by creating an artificial shortage (like the AMA does with doctors). Other workers rely on unions to secure their fair share of the social wealth we create thru the economy.

    For the last 30 years corporations have carried out a relentless attack against organized labor, leaving workers defenseless against increasing exploitation. (Unsurprisingly, unionized govt employees are not as defenseless and for that reason have not experience such overwhelming defeats. They're not overpaid - it's private sector workers who are underpaid.) Having dramatically increased their bargaining power by destroying unions, rich people now take many times more of the social wealth than they did 30 years ago.

    A wage system operating on the principle might makes right is not particularly rational or just, but it's what we're stuck with for now. We can partially mitigate the inefficiency and injustice it causes by making it easier to unionize and by raising taxes on the wealthy.

  • In reply to razetheladder:

    Jake, there is a simple empirical way to determine if CTA union employees are overpaid.

    If there are no concessions, 1100 will get pink slips. Since about 280 buses are being taken out of the system, that may mean 600 drivers. All the drivers have CDLs.

    Now, if they immediately find truck driving jobs, they were underpaid. If they can't, then they were overpaid.

    No need to engage in union theoretic analysis to come to that conclusion.

  • In reply to fivetriple0:

    I want the people who are driving me around to be happy with their jobs and secure in the knowledge that they will be able to retire on a sustainable budget. I don't know why anyone should have to work for less than that. If it weren't for the unions I'm sure the drivers would be making $17,000/year (like some pilots do) and be so sleep-deprived they'd be running into things and people all of the time. So I agree with Jake. There are better funding methods than sticking it to the workers.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Well, feel confident in knowing that CTA recently mailed out letters to many of the bus operators, informing us of our pending dismissal. So there's a good chance for the next couple months you could be riding on a bus, driven by a person who is aware that that they are in the process of being laid off.

  • In reply to Cheryl:


  • In reply to Natg115:

    It's not just the seniors, you'd be shocked how many people riding CTA get to ride for free.

  • In reply to goldminetim:

    Please explain. It sounds like you work for the CTA...

  • In reply to fivetriple0:

    Tom Tresser of No Games fame is running for county board president.This would be the ideal time to wrangle a county subsidy for the C.T.A. .His former organization has a survey on their website asking for ideas on what direction they should now take and how to improve Chicago.Send them your transit ideas and such.

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