CHESTERTON — While the South Shore’s ridership is still down compared to pre-pandemic 2020, railroad officials say they expect the differences to drop as they move into the rest of the year.
South Shore President Mike Noland said at the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board meeting on March 29 that ridership has seen a slight uptick.
“We are very hopeful, as the vaccinations become more prevalent and available to the general public, and as more people get vaccinated, that we’ll then be able to see a shifting in the trend toward return to visiting Chicago, going to museums, going to sporting events, employers opening up back in Chicago to bring their employees back to their main campuses,” Noland said.
“When people are ready for that, we’ll be ready for them.”
Compared to early 2020’s pre-pandemic statistics, both ridership and ticket sales are down. Through February, ridership saw an 84.4 percent drop in total passengers when compared to the same period in 2020.
“Similar to ticket sales, we’re still down. As we move into March, we’ll start to see those differences drop,” South Shore Line chief accountant Kelly Wenger said of ridership.
However, Wenger said ridership has had some steady inclines.
“In October we kind of peaked and came back down. That’s when Chicago, specifically, put Indiana on a travel ban list,” Wenger said.
Toward the end of February, Indiana moved from Chicago’s orange “Avoid Travel” level to the yellow “Avoid Non-essential Travel” level.
“As I’ve tracked through March, a lot of our weekend ridership is starting to come back closer to normal levels a bit faster for this time of year,” Wenger said. “We’re getting there slowly.”
Nicole Barker, director of Capital Investment & Implementation, said single ride ticket sales are down 77.9 percent and all ticket sales are down 78.6 percent.
Revenue for all tickets in January and February of 2021 was $517,854, compared to $3,424,971 for the same period in 2020.
Barker added that at the next board meeting, they will be able to compare COVID-19 months to non-COVID-19 months.
“There’s a little bit of an anomaly occurring as we are doing things like having the monthly ticket for January applied to February due to COVID. We’re seeing a drop in our digital ticket percentage,” Barker said.
Noland also noted that while Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb lifted the mask mandate as of April 6 for the state, the mandate will continue for riders on the South Shore Line.
The South Shore, said Noland, is covered not only by mask mandates from the state of Illinois and the state of Indiana, but also from the federal government.
“We also have an overlay from the federal government that we must comply with the TSA order to have masks onboard our equipment,” he said.
“The governor is lifting the mask mandate, though continuing to recommend – and he will be continuing to wear masks in public – pursuant to his updated order. Masks will continue to be required to be worn by employees and our riders on our trains.”
Separately, Noland said there is an emergency order from the Federal Railroad Administration that impacts the South Shore’s employees.
“Our employees are also required, while at work, to continue to wear masks and we expect that to continue on for the foreseeable future until we get additional guidance from the federal government and the CDC,” Noland said.
The South Shore has continued to focus on sanitization and Noland said the cars are cleaner than ever.
“We continue with our efforts to sanitize our equipment and invest in technology that will make our cars safer than ever before,” Noland said.