Posted by Citizens Taking Action for transit dependent riders


Disparaging Remarks About Free Pubic Transit


Charles Paidock

Secretary, Citizens Taking Action for transit dependent riders

Tuesday 2/24/09

Various Newspapers


Letter to the Editor
Re:  Disparaging Remarks About Free Public Transit
I have been advocating free public transit for more than a decade, as one of the original organizers of Citizens Taking Action - for transit dependent riders. 
I also took RTA to task, at the public budget hearings in November, regarding their cost of free senior riders.  It amounts to only a very, very small percentage of operating cost, and according to the RTA budget, "this loss of fare represents approximately 3% of annual Service Board revenue."   Per the legislation which was passed, RTA was going to get $500 million more, and senior cost was estimated at only $10 million of that amount.  There has been a significant increases in ridership, with increased revenue, and Chicago had its biggest gain in riders in three decades last year.  CTA nevertheless said it "was forced to raise fares."  Metra and Pace followed along.
The figures given at the hearing on Monday are "from outer space."  There is a dispute between RTA and the services regarding blame for current funding problems, and free senior fares is being used as an excuse for not have come up with an adequate method in the first place.

We have been doing a survey of transit fares in 25 major metropolitan areas for a number of years.  I testified before the IL House Transportation Committee in favor of adoption of this policy for senior citizens.  Chicago has always ranked as first or second for having the highest transit fares in the country, with significant impact upon those with a fixed income.
Fare free pubic transit already exists in numerous locations in some fashion.  Transit fares are a regressive tax on the poor.  The collection of fares is an anachronism leftover from the days when transit systems were private concerns, and not municipal entities.  At one time CTA had as many as 18 different categories of riders, and it obviously got too cumbersome to administer.  Some of the state legislators not only wanted to exclude the millionaires we keep hearing complaints about, but every senior who was not penniless.  When one considers the difference between peak and off-peak transit services, a valid argument is made that seniors have been cheated over the years.  A common complaint was that buses and trains sometimes had few riders, so when there is a way to correct this, there are those who oppose it.  One could also say that the rush hour riders have already paid for the system, and seniors riding in the middle of the day cost nothing.
As for all those millionaires, for years I was a public librarian, and never asked a patron how much money they had in the bank in order to borrow a book.
The topic of how transit is funding is a detailed topic, and a bit more than I need to get into here.  It's a little discouraging when 10x more is spent for highways, and transit goes begging.  We have done research, and compiled a list of two dozen different ways to fund a public service.  The bottom line is that our metropolitan transit is defined as "fare box dependent," unlike other municipalities around the country. 
The city of Chicago, you may not know, contributes next to nothing for public transit.  
People who are good citizens, and use transit to go to/from work, should not be penalized for doing so.  Seniors have paid their entire working lives for the transit system, everyday, through fare and sales tax.  Isn't that enough for you?
Charles Paidock, Secretary
Citizens Taking Action for transit and trains   (312) 353-0830, (312) 730-0876 cell