A fare increase is unlikely and South Shore commuter train schedules should see no significant changes under a 2013 business plan approved by Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District trustees on an 8-0 vote Friday.
If the commuter railroad can stick to the business plan, it means riders will get their first relief from a fare increase in four years. The last increase was a 5 percent hike in February.
The only factor that might change NICTD's thinking on a 2013 fare increase is a significant hike in Metra fares, NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas told his board. That's what led to February's increase.
NICTD tries to keep its fares on a par with the Illinois railroad so riders from there don't start migrating to South Shore stations where parking lots already overflow on some days.
NICTD also offered apologies on Friday for a deterioration in its on-time performance in 2012. So far this year, 11.3 percent of rush-hour trains are arriving at stops more than 5 minutes late, a 2 percent increase from last year.
However, in October, about one out of four trains were arriving late and in November about 15 percent of trains were late.
A combination of track restrictions due to construction projects and unusual accidents combined to whack the railroads on-time performance, Hanas told trustees,
One of the most dramatic accidents happened on Oct. 14 right next to the Dune Park station where Friday's meeting was being held. A high-voltage NIPSCO line fell on the South Shore tracks, sending high voltage zapping along the rails to two railroad electric substations, frying vital equipment.
Six trains were canceled that Sunday as power on the South Shore went out between Michigan City and Gary. But the long-term effect also was severe, with trains having to operate at reduced speeds for 46 days until new parts could be installed at one of the substations.
However, the construction projects that led to track restrictions, including the new bridge at Torrence Avenue, have wrapped up, so the railroad expects improved on-time performance for December and the holidays.
"As far as delays, we have better days coming," NICTD trustee Mark Yagelski said. "We just had a couple of bad months."
NICTD trustees also passed a resolution Friday that will pave the way for General Manager Hanas to retire sometime between the end of next year and July 31, 2014.
The resolution provides for a one-year extension of the general manager's health insurance after retirement, as well as a bonus tied to fees received from the South Shore freight railroad, according to NICTD lawyer Michael Harris. Tying a parting bonus to those fees is a tradition at the railroad and would probably net Hanas between $50,000 and $60,000 upon retirement, Harris said.
"This is in recognition of the varied expertise and great service from this one very unique public servant," Harris told trustees.
Hanas has worked for NICTD since it was created in 1978, after the General Assembly passed legislation that basically rescued the railroad from bankruptcy. He has been general manager since 1982.
NICTD trustees also approved a refinancing of a NICTD bond issued in 2007 to finance the purchase of new double-decker rail cars. Advisers estimate refinancing at a lower interest rate could save $2.85 million over the life of the bond.
NICTD trustees also accepted the resignations of four of their members: outgoing Lake County Commissioner Frances DuPey, outgoing Porter County Councilwoman Laura Blaney, outgoing LaPorte County Commissioner Barbara Huston and outgoing St. Joseph County Commissioner Robert Kovach.
Their respective county commissions and councils will have to come up with replacements for the four by NICTD's January meeting.