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SENIORS: The Ride is Now FREE on Chicago-Area Mass Transit!

EFFECTIVE, TODAY, MARCH 17th, THOSE OVER 65 RIDE FREE ON MASS TRANSIT - BUT SPECIAL ID CARD IS NEEDED!

Here in the Chicago area, the very first day of FREE rides on the CTA L and Bus Lines, PACE Suburban Buses, and METRA Commuter Rail was pretty much uneventful.   No dancing the Irish Jig by the turnstiles.  No celebratory swigs of Jameson's in the bus lines - even though today is St. Patrick's Day, don't you know.

If you're at least 65, and live anywhere in the Chicago area, within the State of Illinois - rides on trains and buses are now gratis - all day long! 

It is expected that many seniors will avoid busy rush hour travel times - if they can.  For those who work, however, their annual commuting budget may have just dropped by hundreds of dollars per year!

To date, the Chicago Area Regional Transportation Authority has processed applications for over 34,000 Free Ride ID Cards for those over age 65.    Those wanting to ride free must show this special ID when they board mass transit.  The ID will be replaced by a special Smart Card within a few months.

The Free Ride Program for Seniors was passed by the Illinois State Legislature last January.  Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich spearheaded the measure, in effect, to cushion the blow, and perhaps make some political hay, when he reluctantly approved a Chicago Area Sales Tax Increase as part of the legislation.  

The goal in January was to provide bailout funding for Chicago Area Mass Transit - dire cuts and fare increases were predicted as the only alternatives if new funding was not passed.    Finalized legislation included a Sales Tax Increase in Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding Chicago Suburban Counties of between 0.25 and 0.50 percent, as well as a 40% increase in the Chicago Real Estate Transfer Tax.  Both the Sales Tax and Transfer Tax increases take effect April 1st.

Although many over 65 are grateful for the free bus and train rides - especially when viewed against the ever-rising cost of gas and auto maintenance.  Others thought the previous half-fare plan was adequate.  Still others saw the plan as a political face-saving maneuver, to "cover up" the negative of the new, higher sales tax.  For many, making good incomes and still working, the free ride program was mis-targeted - these seniors felt the free rides should be offered to those earning low income, regardless of age.

A few RTA Executives expressed concerns privately that over-adoption of the new program might even reduce local Mass Transit Revenue - but early interest indicates this will not be a problem.

See full coverage and commentary, along with relevant video, in Richard Wronski's article from today's Chicago Tribune.

DEAN MOSS & DEAN'S TEAM CHICAGO

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 8:22 PM by Dean's Team

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