Monday, January 10, 2011

Illinois backtracking on "Free Rides for Seniors"

From the title of the blog, I do try to write about more than just flying.  Today, it's mass transportation in general, but there is a rail twist to it as well...

Back in 2008, former Governor Rod "Name Your Price" Blagojevich came up with the idea of offering all senior citizens, regardless of income, free rides on all state funded mass transit systems... Sounds great, except that the State of Illinois is essentially broke, and this is an unfunded mandate.  Shocking, I know, but since then,  transit agencies across the state have taken a noticeable financial hit due to the program.

This was really well intended -- allowing seniors on a fixed income to be able to benefit from all the years they paid into the system.  And I do understand and agree with that concept.  Unfortunately, the law was poorly worded, and as often happens, people quickly found ways to game the system to their advantage.

I ride Metra commuter rail several times a week from the Northwest Suburbs into downtown Chicago.  Some of the lines go thru extremely affluent areas, like Barrington, Lake Forest, Glencoe, and Winnetka.  And it's not uncommon for people living in those areas (bankers, lawyers, executives) to work past 65.  From experience, I've seen guys earning six figure salaries using the free rides program.

If you figure perhaps 500 people who were otherwise buying monthly passes at about $150 each, you wind up with close to $1M per year in ticket revenue which is no longer being collected.

That's not chump change, and I suspect that the numbers of people using the program are indeed far higher than that.

Fortunately, the Illinois House of Representatives has finally taken action -- last night, they voted 95-15 to limit the free rides program to low income seniors only. The current thresholds are $28K for a single household and $37K for a two person household...

As the Illinois Senate has previously tried to limit the program in similar fashion, hopefully this will become law.  Stay tuned....