South Shore ticket sur­charge plan turned back

NICTD board re­jects rail­road man­age­ment’s plan

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Tim Zorn Post-Tri­bune

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.

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