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Thursday, April 18, 2013

RTA Chicago questions increase in free transit for 'low-income disabled'

Below is a portion of article By Richard Wronski, Chicago Tribune, April 17, 2013

Regional Transportation Authority officials say they are concerned about a spike in the number of free-ride permits for low-income disabled people being approved by the state.

Since January there has been a dramatic increase in permits for free rides on public transit, the RTA said Wednesday.

In March, for example, the number of permits rose to 740 compared with 352 approved in the same month of 2012, the RTA said.

"That's a big jump, and we're concerned," said Jordan Matyas, the RTA's chief of staff. "The numbers are doubling, and we want to ensure the proper safeguards are in place."

A spokeswoman for the state's Department on Aging said the agency is "confident in the manner in which seniors and persons with disabilities secure reduced rides on the RTA and other transit bodies."

The department said Wednesday that the verification process is now "fully automated," unlike in past years, and includes verification of age, income and disability of applicants.

The increase coincides with the elimination of state funding for the department's Circuit Breaker program. The program, which helped low-income seniors and disabled people with property taxes and prescriptions, was a victim of state budget cuts last year.

Circuit Breaker also was used to certify low-income senior citizens and disabled people for free rides on the CTA, Metra and Pace.

Gov. Pat Quinn last year asked the transit agencies to kick in $125,000 each to keep the program afloat, but that money ran out.

About 59,000 low-income people with disabilities ride free on the CTA, Metra and Pace, the RTA said. About 112,500 low-income senior citizens have free-ride permits.

Seniors regardless of income are eligible to ride transit for half the normal fare.

James Watkins, an advocate for the disabled and a member of the CTA and Pace advisory committees, said the poor economy could be to blame for the increase in the number of applicants for the free-ride permits.

He said people might also be under the mistaken belief that they need to reapply for their permits every year.

Officials, he said, "are doing a poor job of letting people know what's going on" since Circuit Breaker ended.

For the full article from the Chicago Tribune: CLICK HERE

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