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Paratransit protesters pressure Quinn for fare freeze
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/21/2009 12:02 AM | Updated: 11/21/2009 12:22 AM

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A dozen paratransit protesters pressured Gov. Quinn Friday to give them the same fare freeze he gave other CTA riders this month.

"Since Gov. Quinn was able to freeze fares for people who ride fixed routes, that same courtesy should have been afforded to the riders for paratransit," said Debbie Pittman of Chicago, spokeswoman for the Concerned Citizens of Paratransit. "We understand there might be a budget that needs to be met," she added, "but it shouldn't be on the backs of the riders."

The standard Pace paratransit fare recently rose to $3, after the Regional Transportation Authority struggled just to keep the federally mandated program funded and rolling earlier this year. In August, Chicago Transit Board President Carole Brown said the average cost of a paratransit ride had risen to $42 since the program was transferred to Pace, a transfer Pittman called "horrific" in that it has produced "capacity constraints created by the cumbersome efforts to travel" and a scheduling process and zoning system that have resulted in "total chaos." RTA and Pace officials counter that the new system has steadily improved after acknowledged early transition problems, and a Pace spokesman said the 2009 average has dipped to $39 a ride as the new system becomes more efficient.

Without denying the subsidy paratransit riders are already receiving, Pittman insisted the RTA and Pace were asking those least able to pay to help make up the difference. According to the CCP, almost half of all Chicago-area paratransit riders - 47.6 percent - have household incomes under $10,000 and survive on $674 a month. Some 80 percent are black, 77.8 percent have no household vehicle and more than half - 58.4 percent - are senior citizens.

"They came to us looking for help," said Ashley Cross of the governor's press department. "We were able to put a solution in place that freezes fares for 2010 and 2011, but the 2009 decision had already been made.

"We're going to listen and hear what they have to say Friday," she added, "but that decision was made before we were involved in RTA."

"That's not acceptable for us," Pittman said.

She said they got "a big runaround" with the governor's representatives when they finally met with them at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago Friday in a meeting barred to the media. "So, we are going to keep fighting," she added.