Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bus Competition Concerns Indiana Commuter Line

The Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority, which operates local bus service in that corner of the Hoosier State, is pressing ahead with plans to operate express bus service from Lake County to downtown Chicago, to the chagrin of the operator of the South Shore line, reports the Northwest Indiana Times.

The newspaper reports that the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) has had a change of heart on the subject. At first, NICTD, which runs the South Shore line, an electrified regional carrier running from South Bend to Chicago, supported the new bus service. It thought it would be a good way to test demand for a proposed line extension.

However, NICTD Marketing and Planning Director John Parsons says the railroad has had second thoughts. "We have expressed concern, especially when it (express bus service) goes into downtown Chicago," Parsons said. "It's literally serving our market."

From a free market perspective, it seems silly to be complaining about competition - intermodal or otherwise. NICTD shouldn't have to worry. Only two buses would operate, and they would leave from Munster, which is not served by the South Shore. Plus, the buses run the risk of getting stuck in traffic, something that is not a concern for trains.

But, this is politics, not business. The expansion is funded by another agency, the Regional Development Authority, and the argument could be made that taxpayer funds are being used to pit one mode against another.

Perhaps the solution is to merge the bus agency into NICTD. This could not only reduce overhead, but put the service in the hands of one authority whose mission would be to utilize the two modes - bus and rail - in a way that maximizes their effectiveness.

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