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Free rides for seniors on bus and rail coming to an end

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD-Only low-income senior citizens will continue to be allowed to ride Chicago-area buses and trains for free under legislation Gov. Quinn signed Monday in a move that significantly scales back one of his predecessor’s signature accomplishments.

Eligibility for the free-rides program impeached ex-Gov. Blagojevich launched in 2008 will be cut by more than half through the change in law that is expected to save cash-strapped, mass-transit agencies in northeastern Illinois $38 million a year.

“This reform sets the standard we must meet for state programs by reducing costs while also ensuring transportation services for our most dependent seniors,” Quinn said in a prepared statement.

“To start off a week that will highlight important budget reforms, we’re taking important steps to ensure our state transit programs are fiscally responsible but also accessible to the riders who depend on them,” said the governor, who delivers his budget address Wednesday.

Even with Quinn’s move, all seniors 65 and older will be entitled to ride the Chicago Transit Authority amd Pace for 85 cents a ride and Metra at a reduced rate, according to the RTA. But only those enrolled in the state’s Circuit Breaker program will be eligible for free rides.

The income threshold to be eligible for Circuit Breaker is $27,610 or less for an individual and $36,635 or less for a couple.

For the foreseeable future, free-rides will continue for everyone because the legislation Quinn signed contained a six-month window during which the mass-transit agencies must phase out free rides for wealthier seniors. The RTA has not yet established when within that time frame it will phase out the perk, RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer said.

During that period, the RTA will attempt to match up those seniors on its ridership lists with the state Department of Aging, which maintains lists of those eligible for the state Circuit Breaker program, she said.

The agency estimates that 44 percent of its senior ridership will continue to be able to ride for free, while the rest will wind up having to pay half-fare on trains and buses.

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