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How survivors of gender-based violence are using transit passes provided by the RTA

March 19, 2024

22 RTA 0682

In November 2023, RTA 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 distributed the cards to over 50 service providers throughout the six-county Chicago region so they could be given to survivors who need access to transportation. As of the end of February, 4,000 Ventra cards have been given to over 1,200 survivors.

This 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 transportation is key for survivors of gender-based violence. Loren Gutierrez, who represents The Network on the RTA’s Citizens Advisory Board (RTACAB), said that based on survey responses from over 50 service providers, survivors have used their transit passes to get to medical appointments, court appearances, support groups, and other services related to the abuse they’ve experienced. They also use the passes for daily needs like buying groceries, taking their kids to school, accessing job interviews, and getting to work—which is key to maintaining separation from their abusers.

Access to transit also fosters stability for families going through a destabilizing time, Gutierrez said.

“One of the organizations had a shelter resident who didn’t have a form of reliable transportation, so she and her two children often had to stay in the area of the shelter,” she said. “But she was able to use the transportation assistance to take her children to the Christmas tree lighting and the fireworks at Navy Pier. It shows that the transportation needs of the clients aren’t just accessing safety, but stability for the family and their ability to continue their daily lives.”

Gutierrez said the survey revealed multiple instances of abusers slashing tires, crashing cars, or stealing cars from survivors. These survivors were able to use the transportation cards to continue getting to work, accessing services, and meeting their daily needs.

Over 20,000 transit passes are still available for distribution to survivors via more than 50 social service providers throughout the region. Survivors who are not currently connected with a service provider are encouraged to call the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 877-863-6338.

Join the Transit is the Answer Coalition

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. Earlier this year, RTA, Metra, and Cook County announced the Access Pilot Program, extending reduced fares to the region’s eligible Metra riders experiencing low incomes.

As another part of the omnibus transit package, lawmakers tasked the RTA with conducting research on providing additional free and reduced fares and maintaining equity across the system, due this summer. 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.

Join us in the fight to win sustainable funding for transit and build a better system for everyone who relies on it. Learn more and join the Transit is the Answer Coalition.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Reduced Fare | Ride Free

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