South Shore ticket surcharge plan turned back
NICTD board rejects railroad management’s plan
The board that oversees the South Shore Line defeated a proposal Friday to make riders pay $2 extra when they buy tickets on the trains.
The railroad’s management told the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District board that the surcharge would cut costs and improve safety, allowing conductors to focus on safety instead of selling tickets.
“We’re trying to reduce our cost of operations for long-term sustainability,” South Shore President Michael Noland said.
The NICTD board, composed mostly of public officials, almost always goes along with the management’s recommendations, but it balked this time.
Some board members worried that the surcharge would drive people away, noting that the South Shore ridership slipped in recent years.
“There always will be some people who use cash,” said David Pranckus, a South Shore engineer and board member. “I do believe this (surcharge) would reduce ridership.”
Pranckus had raised objections when the fee was first proposed about two years ago.
Since then, the South Shore has worked with a regional organization that encourages people to open bank accounts so they can get credit or debit cards. Those cards can be used to buy tickets from vending machines at South Shore stations.
A significant and in- creasing number of tickets are bought by riders using the South Shore’s smartphone app, which the railroad has been encouraging.
Only three South Shore stations have ticket agents. Almost all stations have ticket-vending machines that only take cards, but two — McCormick Place and Hudson Lake — have neither.
The South Shore currently imposes a $1 surcharge only when a rider buys a ticket on a train after bypassing a ticket agent.
The management’s $2 surcharge proposal was defeated Friday on a 4-4 vote, with Pranckus, Jim Biggs, Christine Cid and D a n Wh i t t e n v o t i n g against it. In favor were Mark Catanzarite, Kevin Kelly, Michael Repay and Mark Yagelski.
Also Friday, Noland said the South Shore will be looking for companies willing and able to build 26 new rail cars in a few years.
He said Nippon Sharyo, the Japanese company that built all of the South Shore’s current cars, has pulled out of the North American market.
He said South Shore’s most recent new-car purchase was in 2014, when it “piggybacked” on a car order from Metra, the Chicago-area commuter rail service.
The NICTD board also approved a one-year marketing contract extension with Group 7even, of Valparaiso, for $295,000, and board members discussed the possibility of meeting with city and county officials in St. Joseph County over proposals to move the South Shore station in South Bend.
Tim Zorn is a freelance reporter.