Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Free rides for some seniors may be over

by Rachel Wells

Free rides for some seniors may end if the Illinois Senate approves a bill the House passed today.

HB 4654 would roll back a policy initiated by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich that allowed free mass transit rides for anyone 65 or older, regardless of income level.

If the bill becomes law, low-income seniors would still qualify for free rides, and all other seniors would qualify for half-fare.

“Thirty percent of seniors will continue to ride for free,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Palatine Republican.

The rollback is expected to provide the Regional Transportation Authority – including Metra, the Chicago Transportation Authority and PACE – an additional $37 million for operations.

“There is no free ride if there’s no bus,” Bassi said, referring to the transportation system’s recent budget problems.

Opponents of the rollback measure said some seniors wouldn’t qualify for low-income free rides but still have limited incomes and need the free fare. They also argued that the free rides encouraged otherwise isolated elderly people to go out into their communities.

Proponents of the bill argued that if the free-ride cut couldn’t be implemented, then more difficult cuts, such as cuts to education or social services, will be almost impossible.

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