INDIANAPOLIS | Despite a slight ridership dip due in part to a fare increase, revenue at the region's commuter rail service improved last year compared to 2010.
An audit of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District released Thursday by the State Board of Accounts found 7,000 fewer people rode the South Shore Line in 2011 but operating revenue grew 2.9 percent.
"Our fare increases have produced positive revenue gains for us and we're not seeing diminished ridership solely due to fare increases," said Gerald Hanas, NICTD general manager.
Ridership is projected to remain at about 3.7 million for 2012 and future fare increases are likely to be small changes adjusting for inflation rather than a large price bump, Hanas said. A June 2011 fare increase raised ticket prices 2 percent. NICTD raised fares by 5 percent in February.
"The fare structures are pretty reasonable given the alternative of driving costs," Hanas said.
Train fares covered about a third of NICTD's $57.7 million in 2011 operating expenses. Nonoperating revenue, such as property taxes on parked railcars, local subsides and sales of equipment and advertising, paid for 37 percent of NICTD costs. Federal and state transportation funds made up the rest.
Hanas said barring exceptional circumstances NICTD is "in solid shape for the next 24 months." Though Hanas said he is keeping a wary eye on Congress as it hashes out a multi-year transportation plan that may end dedicated federal funding for transit.
He said that could force transit agencies to ask Congress for money every year, creating a less stable transit system and making long-term planning nearly impossible.