On the day that free transit rides ended for most seniors, there was confusion, miscommunication and lack of information about the new reduced fare permit program.
Some riders said they were unaware the free rides were ending, although transit officials had publicized the date for months.
Some 336,000 senior citizens today had to start using new reduced-fare permits on the CTA, Metra and Pace. The new photo IDs replace cards that seniors have used for free rides on buses and trains since March 2008.
Margaret Wright, 69, arrived at the Thompson Center shortly before 9 a.m. late for an appointment.
“The driver made me pay. I didn't think I had to pay,” said Wright, who rode the No. 6 bus from Hyde Park to downtown Chicago.
“And the bus was late,” she said, scurrying toward the escalators.
Some senior citizens reported that they were getting a break from sympathetic conductors or station attendants.
Others said they never got their new reduced-fare permits from the RTA.
“They said they were going to send it,” Ed Marlin, 67, complained to a CTA attendant at the Clark and Lake CTA station. “They didn't send it.”
Riders said they tried calling the RTA’s customer service center, but either couldn’t get through or didn’t get the help they needed.
“If I call the number, all I do is get the runaround,” Marlin said.
The Regional Transportation Authority also mailed more than 80,000 Circuit Ride Free cards to low-income seniors. The cards will enable seniors eligible under the state's Circuit Breaker program to continue riding public transit without paying fares.
Annual incomes to qualify for the card range from $27,610 to $45,657, depending on household size.
The free rides for seniors program was the brainchild of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who attached the program to a measure increasing the mass transit sales tax.
Legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in February ended the free rides except for low-income seniors.
RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer said Wednesday that the agency has been swamped with requests for assistance with the new cards. It has had to triple the number of its customer service representatives, she said.
The agency has been averaging 2,000 calls a day for the past several weeks, Palmer said.
The RTA also extended its hours until 6 p.m. daily at the Chicago customer service center at 165 N. Jefferson St.
One problem for many seniors has been a lack of clear information on how to load value on the new permits.
Fare value can be added at CTA vending machines or any one of several grocery stores or currency exchanges, the RTA said.
The CTA and RTA had personnel at selected stations today and will on following days to assist seniors with the new permits.
The RTA is asking seniors in the free ride program who haven't received a Circuit Ride Free or a reduced-fare permit to call the customer service center at 312-913-3110. Other information is available at http://www.rtachicago.com.
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