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NICTD studying fare hikes to encourage electronic South Shore ticket purchases

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The South Shore is considering whether to boost the surcharge on one-way cash tickets purchased onboard passenger trains to discourage that option.

The move would be part of a general fare increase being evaluated by staff that also would discount sales made at ticket windows, vending machines and through the South Shore’s new app for iPhones and mobile devices that displays a ticket icon on the screen.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District would have to approve the fare adjustments, which likely couldn’t take place until next year.

NICTD currently adds a $1 surcharge to tickets purchased on trains if a ticket agent had been on duty. Metra in Illinois charges $3 more and penalties across the U.S. range from $1.25 to $6.50 depending on the location and time of commute.

At NICTD’s meeting Friday, general manager Gerald Hanas said South Shore conductors sell about 400,000 tickets a year generating over $3 million in revenue --- transactions that take time and require additional control, accounting and auditing.

No cash handling is required when using a ticket vending machine or mobile app that rely on credit/debit cards; NICTD plans to install more ticket machines at additional stations.

Ticket sales and revenue using the mobile app, introduced in June, has doubled to 3,283 tickets in July. Ticket-agent and conductor sales have declined slightly this year, said Hanas, but management wants to push that trend and increase the use of electronic ticketing even more.

He added that finding the appropriate balance for commuters is a complex process because while the South Shore could ban cash sales on trains, NICTD doesn’t want to penalize someone who doesn’t have a credit card.

And if a substantial penalty were added for onboard ticket purchases, Hanas noted, NICTD doesn’t want to put conductors in an adversarial position with passengers to collect it.

NICTD also offers purchase of tickets by mail, but that use and revenue has dropped nearly 37 percent year-to-date over 2013.

Overall, ridership is encouraging, said NICTD marketing director John Parsons, despite periodic busing between some stations due to upgrades/maintenance. July had the highest monthly ridership since 2010 with 2,086,379 total commuters riding the South Shore so far this year and more Chicago festivals and Notre Dame home games yet to take place.

Among the summer work projects are replacement of 2,400 feet of track embedded in 10th Street in Michigan City (requiring busing Aug. 5, 7,12 and 14 between Dune Park), and a continuing upgrade of the overhead catenary line between South Bend and Michigan City (busing Aug. 4-8 and Sept. 8-12).

In other business, Hanas said because of the complexity of the proposals received last month, staff won’t be ready until September to recommend a vendor to design, fabricate, construct and install a Positive Train Control system.

The Federal Railroad Administration mandated the new system for most U.S. rail carriers by Dec. 31, 2015. Hanas said none of the vendors can comply with that timetable.

PTC relies on a new communications infrastructure that doesn’t exist and early estimates for the South Shore to build and integrate one was $35 million. NICTD’s PTC needs to be compatible with that of Metra, where the South Shore shares track and operates trains.

The new system will enable real-time, GPS-assisted data transmission from trains, signals, switches and track circuits to a central location to control train movements so collisions can be prevented.

Also Friday, NICTD directors approved a five-year extension of the current contract with Crowe Horwath for auditing services through 2018.

 

Posted 8/4/2014