With worried seniors clogging the phone lines into the Regional Transportation Authority, officials are extending hours for the customer service center as the deadline looms for eliminating free rides on the CTA, Metra and Pace for those 65 and older.
Changes in state law will phase out the program, established by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as of next month. It will be replaced by a two-tier system with Circuit Ride Free permits for low-income seniors and Reduced Fare cards for all other riders.
The RTA started mailing new permits in late July, but mix-ups have dogged the process.
The agency used the Illinois Department on Aging's database. However, some discrepancies in the information along with out-of-date addresses triggered problems, communications director Diane Palmer said.
The demand also has been much higher than anticipated. Instead of the 56,000 Circuit Ride Free permits originally expected, the RTA has sent out 82,000. The agency has increased staff at its call-in center from seven to more than 30. Average daily calls have shot up from 500 to 2,000.
As of Friday afternoon, the RTA said it will extend hours for its call-in center from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the next two weeks.
If you are a senior waiting for a Reduced Fare or Circuit Ride Free card or have received an incorrect permit, contact the RTA at (312) 913-3110. If you hear a recording, dial 0, officials advise.