Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Illinois program provides free public transportation for low-income disabled people

From the Chicago Sun -Times August 27:

A new law that gives free public transit rides to the low-income disabled was signed Tuesday by Gov. Blagojevich.

"It will help people get to work and school and medical appointments," said Jim Watkins, an advisory co-chair to the Regional Transit Authority on disability issues. "It will enhance their daily lives."

But the new program, which goes into effect Oct. 24, is expected to cost the already cash-strapped RTA up to $10 million a year. The CTA alone expects to lose $8 million in 2009.

The CTA also expects to lose $26 million in 2009 from giving free rides to seniors, $500,000 from giving free rides to members of the military, and $32 million from the loss of the state's reduced fare subsidy, for a total loss of $66.5 million.

CTA President Ron Huberman said the agency is "excited" to be able to provide free rides for individuals with disabilities who are least able to pay. But he added, "There's nothing free about the free rides program."

"We are very concerned on the impact this will have on our 2009 budget," said Huberman.

Despite increasing ridership, the CTA is being hurt by high fuel and labor costs and lost tax revenue due to the slumping real estate market.

The senior free rides program took effect March 17. The number of seniors riding the CTA has grown from an average of 63,000 per weekday in 2008 to 90,000 per weekday in July.

To qualify for the new free rides for the disabled program on Metra, CTA or Pace, an individual must be enrolled in the Illinois Circuit Breaker program as a low-income person with a disability. Income limits for eligibility range from $22,218 for an individual to $36,740 for a household of three or more.