Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

South Shore fare hike hearing draws a few riders but no board members

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Their numbers were few but their opposition unanimous Wednesday when it came to a proposed 2-percent South Shore fare hike.

The fares would jump by that amount across-the-board effective June 1 in each of 2010 and 2011. The last fare increase was 2 percent in both 2006 and 2007.

If approved a one-way ticket from Dune Park and Portage/Ogden Dunes in Porter County to Millennium Station in Chicago would increase from $6.65 to $6.80 and to $6.95 next year.

Three Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District management officials hosted a public hearing last night; the comments received will be forwarded along with input from four other hearings to the NICTD board, which will vote on the fare increase March 26.

Krista Day Zoladz of Hobart said she and her husband Dennis pay NICTD $3,828 a year as daily riders but questioned what commuters will get in return for higher fares. She also cited a decline in South Shore service and asked the NICTD board to address her concerns.

Among them, that the train cars and parking lots are not adequately maintained; that the 14 new bi-level cars delivered last year are still not working properly and should have been researched further; and that younger NICTD collectors and conductors lack customer-service skills.

“Each of us has to make concessions due to the economy,” said Krista Zoladz. “Why not make it more conducive for riders to get to their destinations in Chicago with more job opportunities until the economy picks up?”

Zoladz felt that increasingly South Shore riders are opting for the Valparaiso-based Chicago Dash bus service, car pooling or driving their own personal car into the city each day. “I understand in trying times you have a business to run, but there’s so much room for improvement,” she stated.

Both Zoladzes expressed frustration over rush-hour trains overcrowded with sometimes-inebriated Chicago Cubs fans following a home game. NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said it’s impossible to predict when the games will end and which trains fans will ride.

He also noted that while some individual cars may be standing room only, other cars on the same train can have available seats.

NICTD marketing director John Parsons said seating capacity has been increased for major Chicago events and festivals to offset higher passenger loads.

Regarding maintenance, Hanas said the train cars are cleaned nightly.

Dennis Metheny, Coolspring Township trustee in LaPorte County, said if someone wants to ride the South Shore, they should pay for it. “You can’t continue to fund a train that can’t sustain itself.”

At its Jan. 29 meeting the NICTD board was told management is exploring salary and wage freezes, furlough days and service cuts as cost-cutting measures to offset higher operating costs, a 7 percent South Shore ridership decline and a $1.2 million drop in farebox receipts.

Metheny asked why none of the NICTD board members were present at Wednesday’s Dune Park hearing. Hanas said some board members attended previous hearings at other locations, and members generally get a lot of input from passengers.

Porter County’s representatives are County Commissioner John Evans and County Council member Sylvia Graham.

Both Metheny and Krista Zoladz asked about the new $50 million bi-level train cars that were put into rush-hour service, then removed when auxiliary power system problems developed. Hanas said the cars now are in daily service during off-peak hours as numerous technicians work to resolve the occassional power problems.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money or poor planning on somebody’s part,” said Metheny, who also rapped that the trains came from a Japanese manufacturer. Hanas said the cars were assembled in Wisconsin and conform to Buy America standards.

In addition to the 2-percent rate hike, changes to the family fare policy are proposed. Currently up to two children age 13 or younger may ride free with each parent/adult on off-peak weekday and all weekend/holiday trains. If approved, the number of children riding free would be reduced to one child per parent/adult.

Also, weekday eastbound Train 11 departing Millennium Station at 3:58 p.m. would be designated a peak rush-hour train requiring all children age 13 or younger to pay a half fare. This was in response to daily commuters who said they couldn’t find a seat when children were riding for free.

 

 

Posted 3/11/2010

 

 

 

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