Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Free Rides for Seniors

Reprinted with permission of Skyline News

3/11/2009 10:00:00 PM
Felicia Dechter

CTA rides means freedom for seniors

Heart of the 'hood
Last week, I got on the bus at the urging of Lake View resident and senior citizen Charlotte Newfeld, who wanted me to not only see how many seniors use their free rides, but also what those rides mean to them.
Charlotte and I got on the Broadway bus at Cornelia, and rode to Foster Avenue. Right off the bat, I couldn't help grumbling at the $2.25 I had to pay without being able to buy a transfer. The short ride to Foster and back cost me $4.50. I remember when you could get a transfer for a quarter, and use it a bunch of times.
Seventeen percent of the city's seniors live below the poverty level, and 13 percent have incomes significantly lower than that, a city source told me. And Social Security averages $13,000 per year, leaving some seniors without money for basic necessities. Income is a huge obstacle.
Charlotte says getting older means "more and more" isolation. The free rides help people get out, and they talk to each other on the bus. We found seniors coming from church, the doctor's office, volunteering, etc. They shop, go to the library, see their friends and do things they might otherwise not be able to. We went out at lunchtime, and there were dozens of seniors riding and plenty of seats.
"Seniors aren't riding at rush hour and taking up space ... it's too dangerous unless you're athletic," Charlotte says. "These buses would be running empty."
"The bus is a communal thing," she added. "You might not always like who's on it..."
Our bus driver, Jose Rodriguez, says the CTA is trying to take the freebie away and charge $1 by summer. "It's coming for sure," he says. "Ninety-five percent of the big guys agree on it." Yet Rodriguez says he doesn't.
"What's fair is fair, come on," he says.
Edgewater resident Beverly Stormont, 80, rides every day. Her church at Addison and Broadway holds senior meetings, exercise classes, a book club, show movies, etc. "I think the CTA is the best thing Chicago has," she says.
Barbara Bell, an Uptown senior, says, "When you're low income, it helps a whole bunch.
Now I don't have to sit and wait for somebody to come pick me up."
Lake View resident Jessica Vance rides the bus to see the doctor and to do volunteer work, and Lincoln Parker Nomy Jose shops, goes to the doc, and keeps active with free rides. Laura Ramirez, of Andersonville, said it gets people out more to shop in the community, and Rogers Parker Delores Tronstad - out shopping for a birthday present - told me, "It comes in very handy."
No matter what they were doing, one thing was crystal clear: seniors rely on the free rides. I hope the "big guys" will think long and hard about that.