CHESTERTON — The South Shore Line’s ridership is continuing its rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have seen month-over-month steady increases,” South Shore President Mike Noland said during Monday’s Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation Board meeting.

“Many, many of the weekdays we’re seeing 50 percent of our previous weekday business rides. On weekends we’re seeing 60-plus percent of the return to service,” he said.

“That’s pretty consistent from what I’m hearing from other commuter properties around the country. We’re trending along that same kind of line.”

In terms of ridership, the South Shore had 635,126 total passengers through June, compared to 354,609 in 2021 and 1,574,411 in 2019, the last non-COVID year.

South Shore chief accountant Kelly Wenger told the board that discretionary ridership is coming back a lot stronger.

“It’s coming back. Discretionary ridership is where it strides for us right now. Overall, we are getting there,” she said.

Weekday business riders, though, have changed their patterns.

“We’re seeing a lot of commuters doing two or three days a week versus what they used to do – five before,” Wenger said.

She noted that the Double Track NWI construction so far had not taken a huge hit on ridership.

“For the most part, Michigan City was the big one affected and everyone was just driving here (Dune Park), parking and getting on to avoid busing to some degree,” Wenger said.

This week the South Shore Line is busing weekday passengers to stations between Carroll Avenue in Michigan City and the Gary/Chicago Airport stations.

Nicole Barker, director of capital investment & implementation, told the board that single-ride ticket sales were up year to date over both 2020 and 2021.

Revenue for all tickets from January through June was $4,207,307 compared to $2,421,086 for the same period in 2021.

The percentage of tickets purchased digitally has also grown. “We’re creeping up to 75 percent purchased digitally, which I think is an exciting milestone,” she said.

Barker added that they had more than 5,000 passengers for the Chicago Pride Parade on June 26, as well as extra shuttles for Festival of the Lakes in Hammond and Pierogi Fest in Whiting.

The South Shore is continuing to promote the cost of riding the train every day versus driving with its “Commute and Save” campaign. Billboards and social media graphics note that taking the train can cost $8 a day compared to driving at $49 a day.

“Fuel prices of course are still high, not as high as they were, but this trend is really helping us to drive people onto the trains,” Barker said.

Wenger added that the Bikes on Trains program never wavered through the pandemic.

Ridership through June for the Bikes on Trains program reached 1,134, compared to 835 in 2021 and 923 in 2019.

“Bikes on Trains, that has been phenomenal. Those bike riders, they’re some serious folks. It has just continued to grow and grow and grow,” Wenger said.

Regarding COVID-19, Noland said they are in a much better place than they had been.

“We are seeing changes and permanent changes that will benefit our riders going forward. Our trains are cleaner than they’ve ever been. We know more about how to keep trains clean, how to keep them sanitized and safer from that standpoint so it’s a better ride for our passengers,” he said.

“Our level of cleanliness has not wavered. That level will always be there,” added NICTD Chief Operating Officer Derrick Wright.

Noland added that they are also watching trends with downtown Chicago office buildings.

“That’s bread and butter for the cities. The businessperson comes into the city ... buys lunch, buys dinner and invests in the economy. In big metropolitan areas it’s been missing the last two or three years,” he said.
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