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RTA provides 25,000 $20 transit passes to be distributed to survivors of domestic violence

November 6, 2023

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The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) has provided 25,000 transit passes loaded with $20 each to The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, an Illinois membership organization advocating to end domestic violence through training, education and policy advocacy. The Network has distributed the cards to over 50 service providers throughout the six-county Chicago region so they can be given to survivors who need access to transportation. Survivors who are not currently connected with a service provider are encouraged to call the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 877-863-6338.

“Access to transportation is key for survivors of gender-based violence,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “The ability to move freely and safely to medical appointments, social service agencies, jobs and other supports is of vital importance. The RTA is committed to expanding access to transportation to vulnerable riders, and this initiative is one way we’re achieving that goal.”

This initiative is the result of PA 103 - 0281, an omnibus transit package that includes several initiatives aimed at addressing some of transit’s most pressing challenges. The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) and State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago), who worked closely with both The Network and the RTA along with transit operators CTA, Metra, and Pace, to craft the legislation.

"Access to safe and reliable transportation is one barrier that victims and survivors of domestic violence face on a day-to-day basis. This program will provide access and allow them to safely travel throughout the region to access essential services and opportunities to move forward," said Senator Villivalam. "As Chair of the Senate Transportation committee, ensuring that public transportation is accessible, equitable and reliable for all riders is one of my top priorities, and this program helps us achieve those goals."

The Network has surveyed their member organizations to determine what level of need each has for the transit passes. As per the legislation, the Network will also prioritize distribution based on the number of clients each organization serves on average. While use of the cards and some anonymous demographic information will be tracked and reported by The Network in an annual report, anonymity is key for survivors of gender-based violence. No names or other identifying information will be tied to the transit passes.

“The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence is proud to partner with RTA in strengthening the safety net for gender-based violence survivors in Northern Illinois,” said Amanda Pyron, Executive Director of The Network. “The critical transportation legislation sponsored by Sen. Villivalam and Rep. Buckner will empower survivors to move from crisis to safety and begin the work of repairing their lives. Utilizing the region’s expansive map of transit services provides survivors with the ability to make the safest choice on their journey to a new life. We thank both Sen. Villivalam and RTA for the partnership and leadership in the effort to end gender-based violence.”

Another aspect of the legislation mandates that a member of The Network sit on the RTA Citizens Advisory Board (RTACAB), which advises the RTA Board of Directors and staff on issues related to the coordination of accessible public transportation services across the region, the provision and efficiency of other regional transportation programs, and the impact of the RTA’s policies and programs on the communities within the metropolitan region. Loren Gutierrez, Managing Attorney, Safety & Family Practice Group Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services, will join RTACAB in the coming months and will be responsible for providing updates on how The Network is using the transit passes.

Improving transit access for survivors of gender-based violence aligns with the principles and goals within Transit is the Answer, the RTA’s regional transit strategic plan. Rolling out a new program in partnership with social service organizations demonstrates the RTA’s commitment to change. And one of the most important advocacy efforts outlined in the plan is to develop a funding structure that is less reliant on rider fares, but instead focused on expanding access to opportunity.

At this time, the distribution of these 25,000 transit passes is a one-time initiative. But since adoption of Transit is the Answer in February 2023, the RTA has been exploring expansion of its ride free and reduced fare programs, and this initiative is one way the agency has achieved the goal quickly for a vulnerable population. The General Assembly has requested that the RTA provide research findings by next summer on what other populations can be served with a formally expanded reduced fare program. The RTA used $500,000 from its reserves to fund this one-time pass program for survivors of gender-based violence. Future expansion of the reduced fare and ride free program is dependent upon increased funding from the State.

“Transit is the answer to many of the most urgent challenges facing us today, and investing in transit is key to advancing equity, growing our economy and combating climate change,” said RTA Board Chair Kirk Dillard. “We anticipate federal COVID-19 relief funding to last through 2025. After that, our transit system faces a $730 million annual budget gap that cannot be closed by raising fares or cutting service—increased public funding is essential.”

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