CROWN POINT | You know the price of gas is too expensive when:
• Public officials have to park their take-home cars.
• City delivery drivers no longer take the scenic route before arriving at their destination.
• People start catching the bus.
Local government officials said they are suffering high fuel costs along with the rest of the public. But one group isn't complaining — those marketing public transportation.
"This is something we are not going to miss taking advantage of," said David Wright, Gary Public Transportation Corp. planning director.
He said GPTC ridership already has increased 17 percent in advance of an advertising campaign reminding the public a bus ticket is only a fraction of the current cost of a gallon of gasoline and a month of bus rides less than one fill-up.
He said gasoline prices started to skyrocket just as GPTC began expanding service.
"The timing is indeed fortuitous, with later hours and more service coverage, we will continue to market the benefits of transit as a viable option for those looking to save money in our service area of Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, Calumet Township, Crown Point, Griffith, Hobart and Merrillville," Wright said.
John Parsons, marketing director for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said the rise in gas prices doesn't affect the South Shore commuter train service.
"We are running an electric railroad," he laughed.
He said ridership, which has been in decline since the 2008 recession, began recovering last fall and only can strengthen as the price of driving to and parking in Chicago grinds upward.
"We carried in excess of 10,000 passengers on St. Patrick's Day for the parade and a garden show. Typically, we carry about 6,000. We are still not at seating capacity in the rush hour but are approaching it," Parsons said.
Meanwhile, county and municipal government officials have told their fleet drivers to put the brakes on unnecessary travel.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said he has ordered nonpolice employees to park their 80 city-owned and -fueled cars they previously drove after their work shift.
"Everybody and their daddy had a take-home car," Copeland said. "We also took 68 cars completely out of service from our overall fleet. I told everyone three weeks ago we are carpooling."
Merrillville Public Works Director Bruce Spires said: "We have had conversations with our employees already about 'let's not keep trucks idling and take a direct route.'"
East Chicago, Crown Point and Gary are moving toward bulk purchases of relatively cheaper ethanol-infused E85 fuel.
Spires said while cities and towns can blunt short-lived price spikes through monthly bulk purchasing, locking long-term prices is only a myth.
"We can lock in the margin the supplier gets over his costs each month, but if anyone knows of a gas supplier who locks in the full price, let me know because I want to do business with him," Spires said.
Even freewheeling police officers are feeling the pinch.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich and Porter County Sheriff David Lain said they have issued memos recently to their departments to reduce nonpatrol driving.
Buncich said the Lake County Government Complex's gas pumps are not only under lock and key but also monitored by security cameras to prevent unauthorized fill-ups at public expense.
Local officials said they take a double hit from high fuel prices.
Not only do their fuel expenses rise, but their gas tax revenue also sinks since the public tends to buy less gas during high price periods and the gas tax is a fixed amount per gallon regardless of how high pump prices get.