Chesterton Tribune

South Shore fares going up February 15

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By PAULENE POPARAD

South Shore passengers will have to dig a little deeper into their pockets to ride the commuter trains effective Feb. 15.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s board of directors voted unanimously Friday to impose a 5 percent across the board fare hike rounded to the nearest 25 cents. A public agency, NICTD owns and operates the South Bend-to-Chicago line.

The rate hike will generate about $800,000 in new revenue annually and keep pace with ticket prices on the Metra passenger line in Illinois at its Hegewisch station, which is served by NICTD trains although Metra sets fares there.

NICTD marketing director John Parsons said most people expressing an opinion during a required comment period opposed a fare increase without a concurrent improvement in service.

If ridership increases, said NICTD board member Mark Yagelski, a LaPorte County Councilman, the South Shore can consider restoring earlier cutbacks made to prevent layoffs. Lake County Council member Christine Cid said speakers at a Hammond public hearing voiced concerns not about the fare increases as much as the train schedule.

After Feb. 15 a one-way ticket from Porter County’s Dune Park Station into Chicago’s Millennium Station at Randolph Street will go from $6.95 to $7.25 and from $197.35 to $207.25 for a monthly pass.

About 40 percent of NICTD passenger revenue is from monthly ticket holders and the balance one-way riders.

Despite the fare increase, Parsons said taking the South Shore is still “a substantial savings over taking your car into Chicago on a daily basis” when gasoline, tires, oil and parking fees are factored in.

Military fare stirs debate

In a separate motion, Cid was the lone no vote on a new policy requiring uniformed active-duty members of the military to pay half fare beginning Feb. 15; active-duty military currently ride for free, the only commuter railroad with such a policy, according to Parsons.

Parsons said 20 emails opposed to charging military personnel to ride were received during the comment period, but 15 of them were from outside the South Shore service area.

NICTD board member John Evans, a Porter County Commissioner, said military men and women don’t fly or ride buses for free. Parsons said about 20 ride the South Shore each weekday and 10 on weekends.

In other business, general manager Gerald Hanas said Feb. 15 NICTD hopes to begin using the new bypass track NICTD built at the Kensington interlocking in Illinois, which also serves three other railroads and is a historic bottleneck for South Shore trains that hurts on-time performance.

Hanas said being able to use either an existing Kensington track or its new bypass will give the South Shore more operating flexibility.

Ridership holds its own

Parsons said NICTD ended 2011 having carried 3,706,676 passengers, about 7,000 or 0.2 percent less than 2010 for virtually no change with indications ridership losses due to the economy have bottomed out after a modern ridership high of over 4 million in 2007.

“It’s an encouraging sign we could see the recession in our rear-view mirror on this one,” Parsons told the NICTD board.

Average 2011 weekday and off-peak riderships were down, but average peak and weekend/holiday travel saw gains. Overall, last year NICTD operated 12,794 trains with 84.7 percent arriving on time and just under 96 percent of late trains at their destination within 15 minutes or less of scheduled arrival.

Also Friday the NICTD board awarded a $753,500 bid for up to 14,000 railroad ties to Stella-Jones of Pittsburgh. A second bid was accepted for $152,000 worth of limestone ballast from Hanson Material Services of Francesville.

In 2012 reorganization St. Joseph County Councilman Mark Catanzarite was elected NICTD chairman, Evans vice-chairman, Yagelski treasurer and Cid secretary. Welcomed to the board was new member Laura Blaney of the Porter County Council replacing Jim Biggs.

Under public comment Bernie Holicky of Chesterton said the signage at Dune Park is confusing for the east parking lot; Evans asked NICTD transit police to conduct a traffic study.

Jim Nowacki of Gary said commuters are very satisfied with the Miller Station, that a high-boarding platform can be added there at its current location, and passengers won’t stand for closing the Gary Station. NICTD is considering a long-range plan to build one station midway between Miller and Gary but no decision’s been made.

Nowacki also said having public comment at the beginning of the meeting sabotages participation if one is late. Lake County Commissioner Frances DePey said she would support having a second comment period at meeting’s end because items can come up not on the published agenda.

LaPorte County Commissioner Barbara Huston said the board can allow comment at any time. “It’s not like we’re close-minded here.”

NICTD management and board members acknowledged the planned retirement of John Schalliol, South Bend Regional Airport manager. The South Shore’s eastern service terminus is at the airport. Schalliol said working with a government agency normally isn’t easy, but he and the airport have enjoyed a great relationship with NICTD.

 

 

 

Posted 1/30/2012