ARLINGTON HEIGHTS | Starting Nov. 15, Chicagoans with disabilities will pay $3 to ride Pace's paratransit service.
Pace board members approved the 75-cent fare increase Wednesday to help balance its budget for 2009.
In almost the same breath, the board voted to eliminate the $150 Americans with Disabilities Act monthly pass, currently only available to Chicago paratransit riders, who make up more than 71 percent of Pace's paratransit ridership.
Paratransit riders who made the long journey from Chicago to Pace's headquarters in Arlington Heights to protest the proposed fare hikes were disheartened by the news.
"If fares go up, nobody will be riding," Patricia Baxter said.
She said her disability and low income leave her without enough money for both travel and other expenses.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, riders explained that their fixed incomes and hefty doctor bills make the new fare unaffordable. And, some said, if free transfers are eliminated (a motion the board moved to reconsider) it will become impossible to ride regularly.
Suzen Riley, 47, pleaded for the board to reconsider the fare increase. Riley, who uses a wheelchair after having suffered three strokes, said she can barely afford the current rate of $2.25. She said she lives entirely on Supplemental Security Income and has already had to cut back on her doctor visits.
"I'm bottom-of-the-barrel broke," Riley said.
On the back of the bad news, Pace Chairman Richard A. Kwasneski offered a glimmer of hope to paratransit riders concerning the 2010 budget.
Thanks to state legislation passed by the House Executive Committee early Wednesday, the Regional Transportation Authority Act could be amended to require RTA to fully fund Pace's ADA Paratransit Service and cover annual budget shortfalls. Therefore, Pace might not have to increase fares for Chicagoans even more -- to $4.50.
After low-income riders' pleas for help, Pace board members turned the request around.
"We need your help," board member Thomas D. Marcucci said. "We need to work together to convince the powers that be that hold the purse strings to give us money. I didn't hear one thing from you folks I didn't agree with. On the other hand, I can't write the check."