Quinn: CTA Fares Should be Based on Ability to Pay

CTA puts cost of program between $30 million and $60 million per year

By BJ Lutz
|  Friday, Oct 16, 2009  |  Updated 5:33 PM CDT
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Quinn:  CTA Fares Should be Based on Ability to Pay

With transit agencies falling deeper into debt, Illinois legislators want to limit free rides to seniors.

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It would take a change in state legislation, but Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday said he supports a review of the Free Rides for Seniors program.

"I don't think it'll completely go away, I think it's going to be reviewed in light of the CTA's financial crisis," Quinn said during a call-in interview with WGN-AM.

"They have about a $300 million deficit. If there's a review and it finds it should be based on ability to pay, that low-income seniors and definitely veterans, and also our military personnel, receive a break with respect to public transit, I think that's where we're headed," he said.

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Quinn said he doesn't, however, want to hurt people who live pension check to pension check.

The comments are a change of heart for the Democratic governor, who earlier this year opposed legislation that was under consideration by the Illinois House that would have canceled the program.

Instituted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last year, the program again came into question earlier this week after the Chicago Transit Authority recommended cutting 827,000 hours of bus service and 57,803 hours of rail service in an effort to close a $300 million budget gap.

The CTA estimates the cost of the program between $30 million and $60 million per year.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday said the program should be "revisited." and Sen. Dick Durbin joined the chorus on Friday afternoon.

"The CTA is struggling.  It's critically important.  Mass transit, most of us here understand, (is) critically important, and we don't want to see the fare box reach a level where average people can't use it.  I mean, they need it to get back and forth to work," Durbin said during a Friday afternoon press event.  "And so I don't think it is unreasonable to say that those seniors who happen to be well off ought to pay their fare on the CTA, and those who may be in lower income categories should be given a break.  I'm for that."

Regional Transit Authority officials were in Springfield on Thursday lobbying for an end to the Free Rides program, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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