October 16, 2009

CTA to Possibly End Free Ride Program for Seniors

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CTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, may have to revoke its fare-free program for seniors to help alleviate the burden of a projected $300 million budget deficit. The program was introduced by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who later extended the program to include low-income riders with disabilities, disabled veterans and military personnel.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the CTA figures free rides will cost the agency $60 million in 2010.  The current budget shortfall also led the Agency to propose fare hikes Monday that would increase the cost of an L ride to $3 from $2.25, and cut bus service by 18 percent and rail service by 9 percent.

Chicago, like St. Louis, is one of many cities across the nation facing budget deficits in light of the sagging economy (lost tax revenues) and falling real estate values.  In fact, the financial problems facing Metro are more commonplace than unique among our peer cities.  These budget problems persist despite the nationwide increase in overall transit ridership.  If the CTA gets rid of its program, it could be abolished statewide and affect Metro riders in Illinois who qualify for the free rides.

Was the program a good idea?  Should the elderly and people with disabilities have access to free transit rides? Should people with low-incomes have access to free or reduced-rate passes?  When does increasing the fare of a ride discourage ridership and negatively affect ridership?  Where do you think the balance lies?

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5 thoughts on “CTA to Possibly End Free Ride Program for Seniors”

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    I don’t think CTA has that option. I’m pretty sure that it was an unfunded mandate from the state legislature that will require action in Springfield.

    1. Courtney says:


      The action will require action in Springfield…some sort of restriction on the mandate is what is most likely if action is taken. Any restriction can be specific to CTA (through language requirements) or statewide. You are right to point out that the State controls any changes to the program, but the CTA is likely to put heavy pressure (with a tone of desperation) on lawmakers if they deem it is the necessary step to take.

  2. Suzanne says:

    The program was a good idea in theory. But the lawmakers in Springfield need to realize that just because they want to give away free rides – doesn’t make them free. It was irresponsible to promote a free ride that could not be sustained by the CTA.

  3. RTBones says:

    While I am not sure I agree with free rides (reduced fare, absolutely, but I am not sure I agree with free), I agree with Suzanne that it is irresponsible for lawmakers require the CTA to promote such a program without providing a method for the CTA to sustain it. The rides may be “free” but there is still a cost associated with providing them.

  4. kelly says:

    Heck, yeah, it was irresponsible of Blagojevich (because it was HIM-I seem to recall his agreeing to the state budget as being contingent on the legislature agreeing to this perk)! People get used to this crap and see it as a right, when it should never have been done by a state in such financial trouble as Illinois in the first place! No wonder…

    I’m not just ranting to be ranting…the seniors in Missouri see this and wonder why it’s not system-wide or for Missouri also. It was irresponsible all around.

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