Seniors enrolled in the Regional Transportation Authority’s free-ride program were told Thursday that their “smart” cards will expire Sept. 1 and will be replaced with one of two new magnetic striped cards that will be mailed to them in early August.

As described at a public hearing at the Levy Center in Evanston, here’s how the new program will work.

Low-income seniors currently enrolled in the Illinois Department on Aging’s Circuit Breaker program will receive the Seniors Circuit Ride Free card that will function similar to the present card, except that it needs to be inserted into the fare box on the bus or the entrance turnstile at the rail stations operated by the Chicago Transit Authority. On Metra trains, the card is to be shown to the train conductor, as before.

Seniors  not enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program will receive the Seniors Reduced Fare card that can be preloaded at CTA vending machines for any amount up to $100 and can be used on both the CTA and Pace, but they must show their card to a Metra ticket agent or conductor to qualify for the reduced fare on Metra, which will vary from $1 to $4.25, depending upon the number of zones traveled.

Seniors traveling from Evanston to Chicago on Metra currently pay $3.50 for a one-way ticket, $28.50 for a 10-ride ticket, and $90.45 for a monthly pass. The comparable reduced-fare rate is $1.75 for a one-way ticket, $16.50 for a 10-ride ticket, and $61.90 for a monthly pass. The same rates apply for travel between Evanston and Ravinia Park.

The regular fare for a trip on a CTA bus or train is currently $2.25, while the reduced fare rate is 85 cents. The regular fare on a Pace bus is currently $1.75, and the reduced fare rate for seniors will also be 85 cents.

At the hearing yesterday, a number of seniors expressed disappointment at the prospect of receiving magnetic striped cards, as they said these are easily torn, unlike the hard-plastic smart cards in use today.

But RTA spokesperson Diane Palmer explained that the 180 days allowed by the new state law was insufficient time to receive enough smart cards for the 440,000 seniors currently enrolled in the ride-free program that expires Sept. 1.

Cost was an additional factor, she said, as smart cards cost the RTA about $8 each, compared with about $1 for the magnetic-striped cards.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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