More than two months into the South Shore Line's bikes-on-trains pilot program, ridership has improved with the weather.
Temperature, and especially precipitation, are the obvious factors affecting ridership, according to South Shore officials. When temperatures first hit the 70s on the dry weekend of April 16-17, bikers bought 50 train rides. Two weeks later, when high temperatures were in the 50s and it rained, ridership was just 13, according to South Shore data.
When South Shore General Manager Michael Noland updated the railroad's board on the program at its May meeting, he mentioned the weather "jinx" early on, but noted it did provide the advantage of allowing the staff to "get our feet wet without huge demand."
That said, "we're looking forward to good weather and more ridership," he said at the time.
By last weekend, ridership had climbed to 76, the highest to date, with Sunday hosting 45. John Parsons, South Shore's marketing and planning director, said the railroad hopes to see the number continue to rise.
"We have plenty of capacity," he said.
Marketing of the program should get a boost from a video being produced with the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. The video, previewed in draft form at the board's May meeting, will provide a "how to" on bringing a bicycle on the train.
The weekend bicycle service began April 2, after the South Shore removed a portion of the seating from seven cars. Seven westbound trains and seven eastbound trains each day pull two bike-ready cars in addition to cars with normal seating. One bike car has 14 racks, the other 24.
The cars are identified by a window decal. Standard bicycles, with standard-width tires, fit the racks.
Boarding for bicyclists is available at stations with high-level platforms. In Indiana, those are South Bend, Dune Park, East Chicago and Hammond. In Illinois they are Hegewisch, 57th Street, McCormick Place, Museum Campus, Van Buren and Millennium.
Seven of nine weekend trains in each direction each day accommodate bicycles, for total bike capacity of 532 each weekend day. Westbound, those include the trains arriving at Chicago's Millennium station at 7, 9:13 and 10:16 a.m., and 2:39, 5:23, 7:11 and 11:43 p.m.
Eastbound, trains with bike-ready cars include ones leaving Millennium station at 8:40 a.m., and 12:12, 1:35, 6:22, 9:15 and 11:15 p.m. and 12:45 a.m.
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