Chesterton Tribune

Vote on South Shore fare hike set for January

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District will vote next month whether to increase South Shore passenger fares 5 percent across-the-board early in 2012.

Fares last were increased by 2 percent in both 2010 and 2011. NICTD management said Friday the reason for the current jump is two-fold: to generate about $800,000 more in annual farebox revenue, and to keep fares on parity with Metra in Illinois at its Hegewisch Station served by NICTD.

If approved, one-way South Shore riders boarding at Dune Park Station in Porter County would pay 30 cents more at $7.25 to Millennium Station in Chicago or $207.25 a month, a $9.90 increase.

Five evening public hearings will be convened in mid-January and the new fare hike would go into effect Feb. 15 if approved at the Jan. 27 NICTD meeting.

NICTD marketing director John Parsons said Metra, which is implementing 18.8 percent one-way fare hikes and 32 percent for monthly riders, controls ticket prices at the Hegewisch Station. The anticipation is that Hegewisch passengers would begin using NICTD’s nearby Hammond and East Chicago stations for the cheaper South Shore fares, exacerbating existing parking problems at Hammond.

After the meeting Parsons said it wouldn’t be fair to increase NICTD ticket prices for passengers at Hammond and East Chicago only. “It’s part of the equity issue down the line. We also need improved farebox recovery as well.”

As part of the South Shore fare adjustment, it’s proposed that active duty military personnel who currently ride NICTD trains for free would be subject to a reduced fare instead, the same as Metra.

The NICTD Board adopted a 2012 business plan Friday anticipating $18.5 million in passenger fares/parking fees against total operating expenses of $39.4 million, the same as 2011 due to intense efforts to control costs. The difference is offset by depreciation and $8.9 million in non-operating revenue. The net $2.8 million projected loss would be covered by state funding and the possible fare increase.

NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said no significant change in South Shore levels of service is planned in 2012, when major labor agreements will be negotiated, employee health-care costs are anticipated to rise and trackage rights and other contractual agreements with Metra are up for renewal.

He also noted that by February the long-awaited bypass track NICTD is building at the Kensington interlocking in Illinois should be operational, easing congestion there and improving South Shore on-time performance by avoiding its trains being held on shared track with three other railroads.

However, NICTD directors agreed when the bypass is done the South Shore will eliminate stopping at the Kensington station, which won’t be accessible due to the new track alignment; passengers will be asked to use Metra’s newer 57th Street station five miles away.

Parsons said NICTD ridership Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday rebounded well over 2010 although Saturday/Sunday holiday ridership dropped; 23,140 total passengers rode over four days for a 7.7 percent increase.

2011 total ridership through November at 3,361,117 passengers is down 1.4 percent over last year.

For downtown Chicago shoppers, Dec. 10 and possibly Dec. 17 an extra eastbound train will depart Millennium Station at 4:25 p.m. terminating in Michigan City. Monday, Dec. 26 and Monday, Jan. 2 both will run on weekend/holiday schedules.

Lake County Council member Christine Cid, a NICTD board member, asked if the South Shore is using reverse marketing to entice people from Illinois to come here. Parsons said he is working with Northwest Indiana tourism bureaus to develop partnerships with area restaurants and other venues for 2012.

 

Posted 12/5/2011