No more free rides for Chicago-area seniors

Free transit rides for most seniors will end on September 1, when the Regional Transportation Authority (IL) implements changes to the Seniors Ride Free program introduced when Rod Blagojevich was governor. According to The Chicago Tribune, about 415,000 seniors will transition from the free passes to half-price fares on Chicago-area fixed-route bus and rail services. Some 25,000 of current program participants are expected to qualify for continued free rides based on a means test. The new policy is expected to generate about $30 million in annual fare revenues for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace. Link to full story in The Chicago Tribune.

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Profile Photo Stephanie Slade

I think this is an example of good governance that will nonetheless receive a huge amount of public outcry. Nobody likes when a benefit goes away. But honestly, giving free bus rides to a certain group isn’t really a fundamental purpose of government. If you have the means to do it, great. But when times like these come along, hard choices become necessary. I’m actually glad they have the guts to go through with something that’s undoubtedly going to be really unpopular with an important segment of the electorate.

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Profile Photo Susan Bregman

The whole free rides for seniors program also shows the complicated interaction between politics and policy. Former governor Blagojevich introduced the program in 2008 in return for agreeing to support a sales tax increase. Not only did the program cost Chicago-area transit agencies millions in lost fare revenues, but investigations turned up evidence of fraud as riders shared the free passes and/or used them after the original named passholder had died.

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