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South Shore Line not planning any service changes, as COVID continues to impact ridership

screenshot from presentation at Jan. 31 NICTD Board meeting
NICTD's 2021 ridership shows a continued impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The South Shore Line isn't planning any service changes this year, despite the ongoing impact of COVID-19. In early January, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District warned passengers that it might have to adjust train schedules, as the COVID surge hit its staff. So far, that hasn't been necessary, according to NICTD President Mike Noland.

But he told the NICTD Board Monday that the railroad still isn't in "typical ridership times," with ridership around 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels. "Many of the big employers are just keeping a very close, very tight look at [returning to the office] and continue to sort of push out their return to work by a couple months each time, until they get a better handle on what's happening with this from a health standpoint," Noland said.

Weekday rush-hour ridership made up the railroad's biggest declines, dropping by 77 percent from 2019 to 2021. Weekend ridership only dropped by 53 percent.

Noland says that when riders come back, the South Shore Line will be ready. "We have really stepped up our cleaning protocols, and frankly, it's noticeable from our riders," he told the board.

For now, railroad officials hope the upcoming Chicago Auto Show and St. Patrick's Day events will draw a lot of riders. They've also launched a "Connecting People" campaign, highlighting the South Shore's role in connecting people to family, friends, and new experiences.