No More Free Rides? - NBC Chicago

No More Free Rides?

Legislators reconsider seniors’ free-ride program



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

    Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's free-ride program for seniors will cost the city approximately $58 million this year. As Chicago's transit agencies continue to financially suffer, Illinois legislators are reconsidering the offer.

    Representative Suzanne Bassi (R-Palatine) is sponsoring a bill which would limit free rides to seniors who qualify under the state's low-income guidelines. All other seniors would still only pay reduced fares.

    Bassi may be a Republican in a Democrat-majority legislature, but several legislators support the proposal, regardless of party association.

    "We're talking about crisis time," Rep. Kathleen Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) told the Chicago Tribune. "We don't have enough [transit] money to keep everything operating."

    Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday said he would not sign legislation that would take away free bus and train rides from all but low-income seniors, the Chicago Tribune reported.

    The governor said he thinks the free ride program, put in place last year under predecessor Rod Blagojevich, is worthy even as transit agencies face severe money woes.

    Revenues for the CTA, Metra, and Pace were all significantly lower than expected for 2008. According to officials, the CTA is predicting a $242-million deficit for 2009.

    Seniors took over 21 million free rides on the CTA in 2008, 2.3 million free trips on Metra, and 1.7 million rides on Pace.

    After "paying their dues" along the way, seniors themselves seem mixed on the idea of giving up their free ride.

    With pensions based on earnings often very low compared to today's wages, and savings quickly depleted, many argue that the needs are great, while recognizing that the need to keep mass transit viable is also a priority.

    "I don't need free rides," said Barbara Yahnke of Naperville. "I think taking it away will hurt some senior citizens who are on a tight budget, but it won't affect me."

    But others aren't so keen.

    "It makes it a lot easier on senior citizens," said Orlandus Bell, 72, of Naperville. "I know I may sound a little selfish -- since I can afford to pay my own ticket -- but I think I deserve free rides."

    Phone lines and the voicemail for Metro Seniors in Action were filled to capacity Friday morning as Chicago's aging step up to voice their concern.

    Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue and "between blogs" blogger, always sounds a little selfish.