Know a senior citizen who relies on free public transportation to get around?
That's about to change.
Beginning Sept. 1, the Regional Transit Authority's "Seniors Ride Free" program will expire for all senior citizens except those defined as "low-income" using standards adopted from Illinois Department on Aging "Circuit Breaker" program. All other seniors will pay a discounted, half-price, fare.
The Seniors Ride Free program, enacted in 2008 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has been targeted for cuts in light of both the state's ailing finances and the transportation agencies' budget woes.
A 2009 Chicago Tribune story quotes a UIC study estimating the programs impact — free rides for seniors and the disabled would cost the state an estimated $58.8 million to $172.7 million a year, assuming no fare hikes, by 2030.
A couple of important points about the scaling back of the Seniors Ride Free program:
- Those already enrolled in the "Circuit Breaker" program should've automatically qualified for free fares. The Lake County News-Sun reports the RTA has already sent out 56,000 free ride permits. If you're enrolled in the program and your permit hasn't arrived, call the RTA at (312) 913-3110.
- The RTA reportedly sent letters to those enrolled in Circuit Breaker — but not the Seniors Ride Free program — notifying them that they're eligible. Those letters contain instructions on applying for free fare permits.
- Seniors can still apply to enroll in the Circuit Breaker program. Inclusion is based on the following income guidelines — $27,610 for a one-person household, $36,635 for two-person household and $45,657 for three-person household
- There are a number of ways to apply for enrollment: By calling the Illinois Department on Aging at (800) 624-2459 or visiting www.cbrx.il.gov or contacting AgeOptions, an Oak Park-based resource agency at (708) 383-0258.
- All other Chicagoland residents 65 and older will still be eligible for a Reduced Fare Permit. The RTA has posted an 11-minute YouTube video that aims to guide senior commuters through the process of using the permit. That video is reposted here.
- The RTA's website has instructions on registering for Reduced Fare Cards.