Gerard Wagner uses public transportation for everything. The 71-year-old retired engineer lives car-free by choice in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, and his Ride Free Permit through RTA is a game changer for getting where he needs to go.
“My doctors are at Northwestern, so I can jump on the 151 [CTA bus] right there, and it drops me off a block from the hospital,” he said. “I use the Belmont bus to go to the pharmacy. If I go to the outlet mall, I go over to the Blue Line, take it up to Rosemont, and use the free shuttle from there. I use transit for pretty much everything.”
Now, renewing or replacing his Ride Free Permit is easier than ever.
On January 18, the RTA launched Fare Programs Online, a web-based online customer portal that allows people with disabilities and seniors to apply for, replace, and renew Reduced Fare and Ride Free Permits. The portal can be accessed at Fares.RTAChicago.org. This marks the first time these services are available online.
While bringing the applications for these services online improves access to them, the services people are used to aren’t going anywhere. Mail-in and in-person services remain an option for those who cannot or prefer not to use the web portal. And if questions pop up during the online application process, RTA staff are available over the phone to work through any snags.
Jane Hoffman, who uses a Reduced Fare Permit for the CTA, said when she needed to replace a damaged permit, she was able to do so online with help over the phone.
“I talked to someone over the telephone who was helping to walk me through it because I had to upload some additional information to get the card replaced,” Hoffman said. “I use the bus and the Red Line to get where I need to go.”
As of September 2021, nearly 360,000 people throughout the region had active Reduced Fare or Ride Free Permits. This includes 54,588 people with disabilities and 91,909 seniors with Ride Free Permits, as well as 8,642 people with disabilities and 204,502 seniors with Reduced Fare Permits. The hope is Fare Programs Online helps to grow these numbers.
“Our goal is to reach as many people as possible throughout the region who could benefit from free and reduced fare transit service,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “We hope and expect our online portal to have a major impact.”
“These are great programs to begin with because it’s very helpful to seniors like me,” Wagner said. “I have a limited income now since I’m retired. And I like technology; I embrace it. I don’t have to worry about the mail not being delivered, did I put a stamp on something, that kind of thing. It’s the path of least resistance.”