Friday, February 18, 2011

Did        you know?

Nationally, people age 65 and older take 645 million annual trips on public transit.

This week Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 3778, scaling back Illinois' Seniors Ride Free program to only low-income seniors who truly need the assistance.  

The new law is a reasonable policy that places income limits on who can ride on public transit for free, ensuring the state’s poorest seniors will continue to benefit from the program, and saving much needed revenue for cash-strapped public transit agencies.  A one-person household with an annual income of $27,610 or less will still be eligible for the free fare, as will a two-person household earning less than $36,635, and households of three or more earning $45,657 or less. Almost 60 percent of seniors who currently ride free will continue to do so under the new law.  Seniors who exceed the income limit for a free ride will still only pay half the fare, the same discount they received before the free rides program was implemented.


A more reasonable program

The Seniors Ride Free program was financially unsustainable from the start. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) concluded it cost the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, and PACE up to $76 million 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 region’s senior population is expected to double by 2030.

Combined with rising gas prices and low retail sales, the Seniors Ride Free program jeopardized the financial health of an already financially strained public transit system in Northeastern Illinois. Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 revenues are running behind projections for all three transit service boards.  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 transit agencies simply could not afford to support a program that gives away free rides regardless of ability to pay.  All transit users would suffer if the agencies had to cut bus routes or limit service to make up the revenue gap.

There is no reasonable public policy argument for giving free rides to affluent seniors who can afford to pay.  A study conducted by the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that more than a quarter of seniors who used the free rides program collected annual incomes of more than $55,000.

Illinois approach in line with other states

A survey by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) of 88 public transportation systems across the country found 84 percent of the systems offer reduced fares for seniors aged 65 and older. 

Rapid growth in the number of older people in the United States during the coming decades will lead to greatly increased needs for expanded and enhanced public transportation services. Transit systems both large and small have implemented innovative programs that allow seniors to stay mobile as they age, but such efforts can be expensive.  Funds to pay for them will have to come from new revenues or cuts to other programs.

An innovative program in Los Angeles

In 1993, the Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation spearheaded the consolidation of 20 social service transportation programs in the city to create a single efficient system called Cityride.  Cityride is a transportation assistance program that provides seniors (age 65 and over) and individuals in the city of Los Angeles with a subsidized pass they can use to pay for transit services, including monthly bus rides, Cityride dial-a-rides, or taxis. The consolidation saves the city more than $7 million annually and provides services for more than 85,000 registered seniors. The program is funded through Proposition A, a half-percent tax included in the county’s sales tax.

Read more case studies from the APTA here.


Local News

CTA Red-Purple Line alternatives: Wealth of choices with some sacrificeCTA Tattler “The CTA officially unveiled six alternatives for the Red-Purple Line Modernization Project at four public meetings held in the neighborhoods that would feel the impact of the huge project.”

Next iPhone could replace your CTA Chicago Card PlusCTA Tattler “Apple's recent announcement that the next iPhone will be able to make purchases brings us one step closer using phones to board the CTA bus or push through a turnstile.”

Ready, set, charge: Fast EV power stations to roll out soonChicago Tribune “By the end of this year, Chicagoans will not only be able to purchase and drive electric vehicles, but also charge those vehicles in the time it takes to finish a cup of coffee.  The city of Chicago has awarded a $1.9 million contract to a California firm to install 280 electric vehicle charging stations in Chicago and surrounding suburbs by the end of 2011.”

Former RTA director to join ‘Active Trans’ boardChicago Tribune “To strengthen its bench, the alliance is adding former Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Stephen Schlickman to its 25-member board of directors. Schlickman is executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.”

National News

Transportation Bill Passes Senate – “The Virginia Senate passed SB 1446 today 34-6 supporting Governor Bob McDonnell’s $4 billion plan to expand and maintain Virginia’s transportation system.  The plan will provide for the greatest investment in transportation in the Commonwealth in a generation.”

How HOT Lanes will workThe Washington Post “If the I-95 High Occupancy Toll lanes project goes ahead as described by Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton, then the state will have created a remarkable 40-mile long network of managed lanes for commuters.” Lawmakers file “complete streets” bill – The Texas Tribune “Lawmakers today filed a bill they hope will help drivers, cyclists and pedestrians safely share the roads.”

New report shows the job-creating potential of smart transportation investmentsTransportation for America “According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs invested in public transportation and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges.”

10 best cities for public transportationU.S. News and World Report “Analysis of data from the Federal Transit Administration and APTA shows which cities are among the best in the country for public transportation.

Plan puts bus riders on the fast trackThe Indianapolis Star “It's a system called Bus Rapid Transit and has become a key part of the $2.4 billion IndyConnect proposal for mass transit in the Indianapolis area.”

Will electric car owners pay a fee for avoiding the gas tax?Infrastructurist “American roads are maintained largely (and quite poorly) through the gas tax, a user fee that owners of electric cars — with no need to stop at the pump — will avoid.”

Synthesis of congestion pricing-related environmental impact analysesTransportation Research Board “The U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Operations has released a report that summarizes the state-of-the-practice and presents a recommended framework for before-after evaluations of the environmental impacts of congestion pricing projects, such as high-occupancy toll lanes and cordon for area pricing schemes.”

All-American streetcar boom fuels urban “[T]he U.S. is in a streetcar boom. More than a dozen cities either have them or are actively planning for their development, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer says.”

Obama’s $556 billion transportation budget plan emphasizes rail spendingThe Infrastructurist “Perhaps the greatest change comes with a proposed increase in public transportation spending: $119 billion over six years, starting with $22 billion in 2012. That’s a major boost from the current $8 billion annual figure and shifts the proportion of highway-transit spending from 80-20 to 74-26.”

New car sharing association aims to reduce car ownershipThe City Fix “Eighteen car sharing companies from around the world recently formed a new association that emphasizes the environmental and social impact of their work, with a focus on reducing car ownership and promoting integrated public transportation.”

House transportation leaders kick-off nationwide tour in West VirginiaTransportation for America “West Virginia’s Beckley and Charleston were the first two stops on a multi-state tour that House transportation leaders hope will result in a bipartisan bill to fund the nation’s infrastructure.”

The death of the gas tax – and of infrastructure investment?The Washington Post “[I]f the administration is going to duck the fight on reconnecting the Surface Transportation Act and the gas tax, it's hard to see this proposal getting funded and passed.”

World News

Across the state, gov't plans to develop bus stations a class apartIndian Express “In a first of its kind project, Uttar Pradesh has decided to soon turn its existing 226 bus stations across the state into ‘ultra modern bus stations’ through public-private partnership.”

A grander Paris through a rapid circumferential metroThe Transport Politic “From an international perspective, there are two really significant things about the newly approved plans for a radial rapid transit system around the French capital: First, its primary service area will be in the suburbs rather than in the center city; second, it will prioritize very fast transit times over local area connectivity.”

Delhi Metro again explores PPP “After burning its fingers with the PPP (public private partnership) model on the Airport Express Metro line, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) looks prepared to take another chance on the model.”

Japan plans world’s fastest trainThe New York Times “The new rail will use magnetic levitation, which uses powerful magnets to elevate the train above the track, reducing friction and increasing speed.”  


Contact Information 

For comments, suggestions, or submissions, please contact Chantal Hayes, Communications Associate, at or (312)-863-6019.  

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