Chicago Sun-Times

House Committee Rolls Back Free Rides

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The state house executive committee today decided, unanimously and without debate, to roll back the controversial senior free ride program so it only applies to low-income seniors. according to Diane Palmer, spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority. The bill still has to be voted on by both the full house and senate.

Speaking after a City Club luncheon today, RTA executive director Stephen Schlickman said that he was "pleased" to hear of the committee vote. The RTA board had announced earlier this month that it supported rolling back the free ride program, which would save the RTA about $37 million a year. All three transit area agencies are raising fares and/or cutting service for 2010 because of budget troubles.

Schlickman said the bill before the house would preserve free rides for 30 percent of seniors, who are low income. "I think that's appropriate public policy," Schlickman said. "All other seniors will still get half fare benefits."

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Speaking of accuracy, it's not true that the city of Chicago contributes "next to nothing" for public transit. Besides its direct grant, the city spends tens of millions of dollars annually to fund the mass transit unit of the police department and rebuild outdated subway stations such as the work now underway at the Red Line's Grand Avenue stop. The city also has a role in installing bus stops in Chicago and--though there was no cost involved--provided all the bus shelters.

RE: Let's Really Look at Free Transit Fares for Senior

I have been advocating free public transit for more than a decade, as one of the original organizers of Citizens Taking Action - for transit dependent riders.

We have been doing a survey of transit fares in 25 major metropolitan areas for a number of years. I testified before the IL House Transportation Committee in favor of adoption of this policy for senior citizens. Chicago has always ranked as first or second for having the highest transit fares in the country.

Fare free pubic transit already exists in numerous locations in some fashion. Transit fares are a direct, regressive tax on the poor. The collection of fares is an anachronism leftover from the days when transit systems were private concerns, prior to CTA being formed in 1947, and not municipal entities. At one time CTA had, if I recollect correctly, as many as 18 different categories of riders, and it obviously got too cumbersome to administer. Some of the state legislators not only wanted to exclude the millionaires people keep complaining about, but every senior who was not penniless.

When one considers the difference between peak and off-peak transit services, a valid argument is made that seniors have been cheated over the years. A common complaint was that buses and trains sometimes had few riders, so when there is a way to correct this, everyone it seems is opposed to it.

One could also say that the rush hour riders have already paid for the system, and seniors riding in the middle of the day cost nothing.

For years I was a public librarian, and never asked a patron how much money they had in order to borrow a book.

The topic of how transit is funded is a detailed topic, and a bit more than I need to get into here. It's a little discouraging when 10x more is spent for highways, and transit goes begging. We have done research, and compiled a list of 25 different ways to fund a public service. The bottom line is that our metropolitan transit is defined as "fare box dependent," unlike other municipalities around the country. The chief of RTA even maintains that since we pay 50% of the actual cost, then transit fares, no matter at what level they are established, is a deal, and we should shut up.

The city of Chicago, you may or may not know, contributes next to nothing for public transit.

I also took RTA to task, at the public budget hearings in November, regarding their cost of free senior riders. It amounts to only a very, very small percentage of operating cost. Per the legislation which was passed, RTA was going to get $500 million more, and seniors cost only $10 million of that amount. The firgures that RTA is presently can and should be challenged as to accuracy.

Charles Paidock, Secretary
Citizens Taking Action for transit dependent riders

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Wisniewski published on October 28, 2009 2:38 PM.

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