Updates December 2023

Access Pilot Program Will Expand Reduced Fare to SNAP recipients
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As part of implementation of Transit is the Answer, the RTA, in partnership with Cook County and Metra, is preparing to launch the Access Pilot Program on January 16, extending reduced fares to eligible Metra riders experiencing low income. 

Fully funding and expanding regional reduced fare and ride free programs increases access for those residents who need it most and is critical to expanding access to opportunity and making transit more seamless and affordable. This was the topic of the first RTA Coalition Meeting, which included input from stakeholders that helped guide the direction of the program. 

As 2023 closed, the RTA also engaged stakeholders and lawmakers around its 2024 Legislative Agenda and prepared to launch a region-wide paid promotional campaign focused on gaining support for the agenda. 

Watch a full update from the December 2023 Board meeting. 

Why it matters

The total number of individuals receiving SNAP benefits in the region in 2020 was approximately 1.2 million. Of those, approximately 777,000 (63 percent) are adults. Data from rider surveys and workshops shows that fares can be a barrier for people who are transit dependent. The Access pilot is intended to shed light on how to best eliminate this barrier. The pilot will not just expand eligibility, but also simplifies the application process and will be promoted directly to the target audience, with one key goal being to increase ridership.

Simultaneously, the RTA's 2024 Legislative Agenda calls for fully funding existing reduced fare and ADA Paratransit programs, which are federally or state mandated and are currently deeply underfunded by the state. Funding these two programs would not just bolster widely used programs, but would shrink the pending budget gap expected in 2026

Progress on Expanding the Reduced Fare Program to Date

Beginning January 16, all households currently receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits living within the six-county RTA region (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties) will be able to apply for reduced fares on all Metra lines at GetAccess.org. The pilot will use the same pricing as the existing reduced fare and zone structure in Metra's 2024 budget. Both the new Metra fare structure and the Access Pilot Program will take effect on February 1. More information is available at rtachicago.org/access.

Progress on the 2024 Legislative Agenda

The third and final Transit is the Answer coalition meeting of 2023 provided a chance for more than 75 coalition members to meet with RTA and Service Board staff in person to provide feedback on the legislative agenda and other priorities. In addition to meeting with advocates, the RTA Government Affairs staff has continued outreach to legislative and state partners, holding more than 40 meetings with legislators and leading a caucus staff briefing. 

Staff will be available to legislators when the General Assembly session opens on January 16, 2024, which will coincide the launch of a paid promotional campaign to build support for the regional transit system's most urgent priorities.