* We have seen an awful lot of publicity about the seniors ride free program, most of it negative. People love to complain about it. And now there’s a new BGA report…
A yet-to-be-released government audit found widespread abuse of a taxpayer-subsidized program that lets senior citizens ride free on the CTA, Pace and Metra – with a number of instances of senior free-ride passes being used on trains and buses after the registered cardholders had died.
The Regional Transportation Authority – which oversees the three agencies and is conducting the audit – isn’t pinning this on the supernatural. Instead, it seems once cardholders die, friends and relatives who are very much alive sometimes use their free-ride passes to illegally ride the system – or even sell them to make a buck, said RTA spokeswoman Diane Palmer.
And they’ve been getting away with it because, RTA officials acknowledged, the oversight hasn’t been great – with no mechanism to automatically deactivate cards once a holder passes away and no consistent method for confirming the identity of the riders carrying them.
The RTA audit aims to get a handle on the abuse, and find ways to stop it, RTA officials said. They also are likely to use the data to help justify ending the senior free-ride program, which was foisted on them two years ago by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in what many regarded as a “political stunt.” (It’s already sucked at least $38 million in revenues from the cash-starved transit systems, a figure that does not take into account any abuses.) […]
As for those “riding while dead,” the RTA audit came across roughly 160 senior free-ride passes still being used after the registered cardholder died. Those passes were used anywhere from a few times to 1,400 after the death, officials said.
Seniors ride free was a Blagojevich program, so it, like AllKids, is naturally suspect. Blagojevich created it using a controversial amendatory veto, so that’s another big strike.
In reality, however, this is chump change when compared to things like the seniors income tax exemption. They pay no state taxes on retirement income, no matter how high those incomes are. They also get some property tax relief.
But nobody ever says “boo” about that.
Seniors vote in high numbers, so politicians have been pandering to them for decades. And while I think this seniors ride free debate is healthy, we ought to be putting it into a much larger context. We’ve created a special class of citizenry, and maybe now the whole thing needs to be refigured, particularly with the baby boomers starting to retire. Can we really afford this?