Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Free rides compromise moves forward

By Rachel Wells

Sen. Rickey Hendon has changed his mind. Offering free mass transit rides to all seniors is going too far, the Chicago Democrat said.

Last month, after blocking a repeal of the program that he sponsored in 2008, Hendon today sought and found committee approval for limiting free rides to only low- and middle-income seniors.

Previous proposals to repeal the program set the annual income level limits at about $22,000 for individuals, $29,000 for a household of two and $36,000 for a household of three or more. Those limits are too low, Hendon said.

The limits included in HB 4623, which received unanimous approval from committee members, would be about $41,000 for one, $54,000 for two and $57,000 for a family of three or more, Hendon said.

“I think this is a real number. It works. Seniors won’t have to make the decision between trying to ride and feeding themselves or buying their medication,” Hendon said.

He thanked Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Sen. Christine Radogno for convincing him that free rides for all seniors, including the wealthy, was not the way to go.

The measure would allow financially troubled Chicago transportation systems to collect $25 million to $35 million more.

Hendon did, however, insist upon a sunset clause that, if the legislation is not renewed in two years, would reopen the program to all seniors.

“I don’t quite trust CTA,” Hendon said. “The two-year sunset allows us two years to see if they’re going to put more trains on the tracks and more buses and see what they do with the money.”

Radogno said giving free rides to wealthy seniors is not the way to make the CTA accountable. “It just doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense to revert to bad public policy to discipline an agency, that if we have problems with CTA we ought to find another way to do it.”


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