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Free transit rides for seniors officially over Thursday

Updated: November 4, 2011 7:50PM

Thursday marks the end of free rides on the CTA, Metra and Pace for all but low-income seniors.

It’s a change the Regional Transportation Authority has warned seniors about for months but is taking extra measures to make sure the transition is a smooth one. Starting Thursday, CTA and RTA personnel will be stationed at key stations used by seniors to help them acclimate to the new ways to pay.

This is how it works: Only low-income seniors meeting the requirement of the state’s Circuit Breaker program will continue to ride free on the CTA with a valid RTA Circuit Ride Free Permit. All other seniors who don’t meet the income-eligibility requirements can ride the CTA at a reduced rate with a valid RTA Reduced Fare Permit.

Seniors can pay their reduced fare four ways: the RTA Reduced Fare Permit, the CTA Reduced Fare Transit Card, the Reduced Fare 30 Day Pass and cash.

The RTA says it has mailed more than 80,000 Circuit Ride Free permits to seniors and approximately 336,000 Reduced Fare permits. Those that rode for free and haven’t received their permit yet can still call the RTA Customer Service Center at (312) 913-3110.

Still, some seniors are confused by the change and the RTA has tripled the number of customer service representatives at its call center and added staff at the agency’s Customer Service Center at 165 N. Jefferson St. in Chicago. The RTA says they’ve received between 500 to more than 2,000 calls a day over the last few months.

“The RTA has increased resources, and we will continue to do whatever else is possible to assist seniors in riding our transit system,” said Jody Plahm, RTA Deputy Executive Director of Administrative Services.

The free rides program was originally tacked onto the 2008 transit bailout act by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A study released by the CTA and conducted by the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that free rides for seniors and people with disabilities cost the CTA, Pace and Metra between $37.7 million and $116.2 million in lost revenue in 2009.

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