MPC urges Gov. Quinn to sign law ending Seniors Ride Free Program
By Chrissy Mancini Nichols
Jan 24, 2011
This post first appeared at metroplanning.org
Today the Metropolitan Planning Council sent the following letter to Governor Quinn, urging him to sign Senate Bill 3788 into law.
Dear Governor Quinn:
The Metropolitan Planning Council urges you to sign Senate Bill 3778, a bill that will limit the Seniors Ride Free program to only those with limited means. Rising gas prices and low retail sales have made worse an already strained public transit system in Northeastern Illinois. Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 revenues are running behind projections for all three transit service boards; Metra, PACE, and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). For FY 2011, the CTA alone has a projected budget deficit of $196.2 million and must transfer capital dollars to its operations budget to make up the balance.
The Seniors Ride Free program is financially unsustainable. The Regional Transportation Authority concluded that the program cost the CTA, Metra, and PACE between $25 million and $76 million in annual revenue loss in 2009. From March 2008 through December 2009, seniors accounted for 58 million rides on the three systems. These numbers will only continue to grow as the senior population in the region is expected to double by 2030.
There is no reasonable public policy argument to give free rides to affluent seniors who are able to pay. Doing so only shifts the burden onto other riders, many of whom are low-income commuters. A more sound approach is to target free rides to seniors that truly need the assistance, while others age 65 or older would still get 50 percent off the regular fare. The RTA estimates that through means testing, 44 percent of the seniors currently registered for the program will continue to ride for free.
The Senior Ride Free Program jeopardizes the financial health of the entire regional transit system. Cash strapped transit agencies simply cannot afford to support a program that gives free rides away regardless of ability to pay. The Metropolitan Planning Council recommends that you sign SB3778 into law.