Doomsday Trains Making All Stops

Governor says free rides for senior citizens must be cut

Next stop, more bad news for public transit commuters.

Both Metra and the CTA are desperate for cash with budget deficits next year and riders have targets on their briefcases and bags.

After announcing fare hikes starting in January, the CTA is looking to cut free rides for most seniors and has found an ally in Gov. Pat Quinn, who on Friday has reversed his initial position of keeping the free rides.

“If you’re wealthy, maybe you should make do with the situation where you pay your way,” Quinn said on “The Greg Jarrett Show” on WGN-AM 720 radio. “I don’t want to hurt folks who live from pension check to pension check.”

The CTA has estimated the free rides will cost the agency $60 million in 2010.

On Thursday, the Regional Transportation Authority board issued a recommendation to keep the free rides program only for low-income seniors, thus creating an estimated $37 million in annual revenues for the CTA, Pace and RTA.

The CTA is facing a $300 million deficit next year, and recently announced raising train fares from $2.50 to $3, and bus fares from $2.25 to $2.50. Monthly passes would also increase from $86 to $110.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich introduced the blanket free rides for senior citizens in 2008.

In the meantime, Metra also announced fare hikes on Friday, saying it would increase fares by six percent, or an average of 30 cents per ride. Weekend fares would also increase, from $5 to $7.

The Metra and Quinn announcements come just one day after suburban transit agency Pace unveiled a budget forecast with 75 cents fare increases and 19 weekend lines and 33 weekday lines risking elimination.

Although Pace’s numbers are slightly better than those of the CTA or Metra, the agency still faces a $6.5 million deficit next year.

Under Pace’s proposed 2010 budget, paratransit would be hit especially hard. Fares for disabled residents could increase from $2.25 to $3 in the suburbs; while non-resident paratransit disabled riders could pay as much as $4.50 to ride in the city and $3.50 in the suburbs.

Pace board members will vote on the proposed budget on Nov. 11.

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