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?