Disability Transportation in the Chicagoland Area
As a person with a disability, you may qualify for free or reduced fares on many kinds of public transportation! Many kinds of disabilities qualify, not just those that may require a mobility aid like a white cane or wheelchair. For example, people with hearing, mental, visual, cognitive, or age-related disabilities may qualify, and people with episodic disorders may be eligible for an RTA Reduced Fare Permit based on functional abilities when the disorder is not under control.
Below, learn more about transportation options available in the Chicagoland area and the different accessibility features and disability-related programs each provide.
Table of Contents/Jump to Section
Regional Transportation Authority
RTA Key Takeaways
- People with disabilities of all kinds, including hearing, mental, visual, cognitive, age-related, and/or intermittent disabilities may qualify for free or reduced fare permits from the RTA.
- To be eligible for a Free Ride Permit, you MUST be enrolled in the Benefit Access Program (BAP) through the Illinois Department on Aging.
- If applying for a Reduced Fare Permit due to disability, proof of disability is required.
About the RTA
The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is a government agency created by the State of Illinois to coordinate transit in the Chicago area. The RTA oversees the operations of the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA), Metra, and Pace. It services the Northeast Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will.
The RTA also issues Reduced Fare and Ride Free permits, assesses eligibility for ADA Paratransit service, and oversees specialized travel training for people with disabilities and older adults.
By acquiring a permit through the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), you can ride on the CTA, Metra, Pace, or use a taxi for free or with reduced fares.
RTA Free Ride Permits
- Older adults and people with disabilities who are enrolled in the Illinois Department on Aging’s Benefit Access Program (BAP) are eligible for a free ride permit which allows holders to ride free on the CTA, Metra, and Pace fixed-route services.
- Eligibility in the Benefit Access Program is required in order to be found eligible for the RTA Ride Free program.
- Once you have been found eligible for BAP, or if you already have been, you can complete the application for the RTA’s Free Ride Program.
- Submitting your application is followed by in-person interviews and functional assessments, if necessary
How to Apply for a Free Ride Permit
How to Apply for Benefits Access Program
- Apply for the Benefits Access Program Illinois Department of Aging’s website
- Call (800) 252-8966 or use TTY (800) 206-1327
- Information is also available at many senior centers, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and Independent Living Centers (including Access Living).
RTA Reduced Fare Permits/How to Apply
Reduced Fare Permits are available for seniors, people with disabilities, and Medicare card holders. Proof of disability is required.
- Apply online through the RTA’s Online Application Portal
- Download an application for seniors or people with disabilities from the RTA’s website
- Have an application mailed to you: Call RTA Customer Service at (312) 913-3110
RTA Certification for Paratransit
The RTA also oversees the certification process for using ADA Paratransit. Individuals who are interested in using ADA Paratransit service must apply and be found eligible for paratransit according to ADA guidelines. The RTA handles ADA Paratransit Certification for the entire Chicago region to determine an individual’s functional ability to use fixed route services.
To apply for ADA Paratransit certification, visit the RTA’s online application portal.
To renew your paratransit certification, call (312) 663-4357.
Amtrak Key Takeaways
- Amtrak is a national passenger railway company. It operates in 46 of the 50 states.
- The accessibility of Amtrak stations varies. Always check to make sure any stations you are arriving at or departing from are accessible ahead of time.
- Before your trip, you can make a specific request for accessible service with Amtrak such as assistance with navigating the station, baggage, boarding, etc.
- Passengers with disabilities are eligible for an Amtrak rail fare discount. Documentation of disability is required. Amtrak offers a 10% discount for persons traveling with a passenger with a disability as a companion.
- Reservations are often required.
- Fares vary widely depending on your route and destination.
More About Amtrak:
- The accessibility of Amtrak stations varies greatly. To find out if the stations you will be using are accessible, check Amtrak’s website. NOTE: The best way to find accessibility information and to get any questions about accessibility answered seems to be to call Amtrak directly at 1-800-872-7245. TTY 1-800-523-6590.
- Before your trip, you can make a specific request for accessible service with Amtrak such as assistance with navigating the station, your bags, boarding/detraining, storing a mobility aid, getting to and from the restroom etc.
- You can request these services online at Amtrak.com, through the Amtrak mobile app, at a station ticket counter, or phone/TTY.
- NOTE: Amtrak train crews are not required or permitted to provide personal care assistance to passengers, such as feeding, dressing, medicating, or toileting.
- Further Reading: Examples of Accessible Services Requests
- Passengers with disabilities are eligible for an Amtrak rail fare discount. Documentation of disability is required.
- Amtrak offers a 10% discount for persons traveling with a passenger with a disability as a companion. Those designated as a companion must be capable of providing the necessary assistance to the passenger with a disability.
- Required medical devices such as wheelchairs, scooters, oxygen equipment, canes, walkers, etc. do not count towards your allowable baggage and is accepted free of charge if presented with a ticket issued at a mobility impaired fare.
When to make Reservations with Amtrak
Amtrak requests that passengers make reservations for any of the following, including on “unreserved trains” where reservations for standard seating is not required:
- Wheeled mobility device space (for when you will remain in your wheelchair during travel)
- Transfer accessible seats (for when you travel in a seat and stow your wheelchair)
- Accessible room accommodations
Helpful Amtrak Links
Further Reading: Making Reservations for Passengers with a Disability on Amtrak
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)
CTA Key Takeaways
- The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates bus and ‘L’ trains in Chicago and some of its suburbs.
- All CTA busses and rail cars are accessible
- 71% of CTA rail stations are accessible. This means that there are rail stations that can only be accessed by stair, or have other significant accessibility barriers.
- According to the CTA’s All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) Strategic Plan, released in 2018, 100% of CTA rail stations will be accessible by the year 2050.
Helpful CTA Links
Metra Key Takeaways
- Metra is the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs via the Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway, and other railroads.
- Metra currently has 185 fully accessible stations, 44 inaccessible stations, and 13 partially accessible stations:
- Fully Accessible = The station, platform, ticket windows, train station buildings, bathrooms, and signage are fully accessible to people with disabilities and platform edges have tactile edges.
- Partially Accessible = Riders with wheelchairs are able to access the train platform from the street. HOWEVER, there may be barriers to accessing ticket windows, train shelters, train station buildings, and ramps. These stations can generally considered “usable” because they meet most accessibility standards.
- Inaccessible Stations = Do not have ramps or elevators. Usually elevated and only have stairs to reach the platforms.
- Note: Stations not listed in either of the menus below are fully accessible.
List of Inaccessible Metra Stations
List of Partially Accessible Metra Stations
Helpful Metra Links
Pace provides ADA Paratransit in and around Chicago to people with disabilities who have been certified for ADA Paratransit by the RTA. Pace also provides other transportation options and services in the City and suburbs.
As of 2/19/24: Free Rides on Pace Fixed Routes for ADA Certified Riders!
As of February 19, 2024, ADA Paratransit riders with disabilities who are certified for ADA Paratransit by the RTA can ride for free on Pace fixed route buses.
- PLEASE NOTE: To ensure your ride is free, DON’T tap your ADA Paratransit card on the Ventra reader. Simply SHOW your card to the driver when you board.
- Pace On Demand, Pace Connect, ADA Paratransit, Taxi Access Program (TAP) and DuPage Uber trips are not included in the free fare program.
- Also, this free fare program does not cover CTA or Metra; however, ADA certified riders can still ride CTA, Metra and Pace’s On Demand services at a reduced rate.
Helpful Pace Links
Pace Transportation Options and Services
Pace Fixed Route Services
Pace On Demand
Pace ADA Paratransit
What is Paratransit?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public transit agencies that provide fixed-route service (such as the services provided by the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra) to provide comparable services to people with disabilities who, due to disability, cannot use existing fixed-route bus or rail services.
These comparable transportation services for people with disabilities are often referred to as “paratransit” or “ADA Paratransit.”
Pace Suburban Bus (Pace) is the primary provider of public transportation services in the Chicago suburbs; fixed-route Pace buses are available to residents of Cook, Will, Dupage, Kane, Lake, and McHenry Counties. All fixed-route Pace buses are accessible to people with disabilities.
However, for people with disabilities who cannot use one of the fixed-route transit options, Pace also provides ADA Paratransit in and around Chicago. This means that people with disabilities in the City of Chicago or in one of the Chicago suburbs can make advance reservations and arrangements to be picked up and dropped off by a Pace Paratransit vehicle.
NOTE: Only people who are certified by the Regional Transportation Authority are eligible to ride ADA Paratransit.
Getting Certified for Chicago Paratransit
Individuals who are interested in using ADA Paratransit services must apply and be found eligible for paratransit according to ADA guidelines. The RTA handles ADA Paratransit Certification for the entire Chicago region to determine an individual’s functional ability to use fixed route services.
Participants must be recertified every four years.
Apply for Certification
The RTA launched an updated certification process in 2023 to streamline the certification and recertification process. Below is a broad overview of the steps you need to take if you are interested in the RTA Paratransit Certification Program:
- Call the RTA Paratransit Certification Program at (312) 663-4357)
- Answer a few screening questions
- The RTA will then mail you a flyer that explains the program in more detail.
- If you want to continue the application process, call the RTA to schedule an in-person interview.
- TIP: Transportation to and from your interview will be provided for free if requested. Bring a photo ID to your interview.
- You may be asked to complete a physical assessment in addition to answering questions about yourself and your ability to use mainline transportation.
- Call the RTA helpline to schedule a 30 minute phone interview: (312) 663-4357
- RTA staff will call you for your interview and ask you screening questions to determine if you are still eligible for ADA Paratransit service.
RTA Contact Information:
- Hours: Monday – Friday, 8AM – 5PM
- Phone: (312) 663-4357
Pace’s Taxi Access Program (TAP) allows ADA Paratransit eligible riders immediate access to a Chicago taxi as an alternative to riding ADA Paratransit. Note: Taxicab drivers are independent contractors and do not work for Pace nor the City of Chicago.
- TAP can be a great way to travel for last-minute plans.
- Unlike ADA Paratransit, there’s no need to reserve a trip a day in advance. You can call or hail a taxi at your convenience.
- For a list of taxi providers, please call 311.
How to Apply
- Obtain ADA paratransit certification through the RTA
- Fill out the form on Pace’s TAP webpage. Have your paratransit ID card number handy.
Travel Training/Ridership Assistance
The RTA offers free services, including: transit orientation presentations for groups, information assistance at outreach events and resource fairs, and one-on-one travel training to individuals in their communities.
If you are an older adult or a person with a disability and want to learn more about taking accessible CTA, Metra, and Pace public transit, the RTA’s Travel Training Program may be for you. During your free one-on-one sessions, you will meet with a professional Travel Trainer from the RTA who:
- Has experience with older adults and people with disabilities
- Can explain accessibility features on transportation (ramps, lifts, signage, etc.)
- Teaches you how to use the public transit system
- Assists you with planning your trip
- Accompanies you while you are learning your trip
- Is certified in Orientation & Mobility, for participants who are blind or have low-vision
The RTA also does free group presentations on accessible transit options, trip planning, the RTA Free Ride or Reduced Fare Programs, and other topics customized to each audience. Call (312) 913-3120 or email TravelTraining@RTAChicago.org for more information and to request Travel Training.