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Why the New South Shore Line Tourism Initiative Falls Short
by studenkov | 06/03/2011
A couple of weeks ago, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the public agency that runs the South Shore Line, announced that it will be launching a new website that would promote the line to off-peak riders.
The South Shore Line is a century-old rail service that runs (roughly) along Lake Michigan between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. It is something of an oddity in Midwestern public transit - it provides regular commuter-style service beyond Chicago commuter suburbs, extending into villages and cities that are separated by miles of woods and cornfields. Another thing that makes it peculiar is that it's electrically powered - something that's common on the East Coast but relatively rare in the Chicago area.
Looking at its ridership numbers, NICTD concluded that, while the South Shore Line gets plenty of traffic from commuters who travel to Chicago to get jobs, they could stand to improve traffic during weekends and holidays. The best way to do it is promote all the recreational opportunities along the South Shore Line. A dedicated tourism-themed website seemed like a step in the right direction. But once the site was actually unveiled, the results were... underwhelming.
In the past, NICTD seemed to have a weird inferiority complex. When it advertised the South Shore Line, it focused on the fact that it goes to Chicago, completely forgetting that Chicago is just one of fourteen different towns, cities and villages that it serves. I had hoped that the new site would break the pattern. But when the site was unveiled, it proved to be overwhelmingly Chicago-centric.
Once again, NICTD seemed to forget that there are plenty of things to advertise on Indiana side of the line. If I were designing a tourism site, I would talk about the casinos in Hammond and East Chicago, the carefully preserved hiking trails, dunes and beaches at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,the Century of Progress Homes and antique stores in Beverly Shores, the interesting museums, unique stores, boating harbors and resorts in Michigan City, the fishing and boating along the Hudson Lake, the quaint stores in New Carlisle and Norte Dame football games in South Bend. And those are just the things I came up with atop of my head. Imagine what kind of comprehensive coverage NICTD would be able to get if it worked together with the governments of all the areas the South Shore Line passes through.
The reason why I am so passionate about this is because I am a resident of suburban Chicago. I originally started exploring the cities along the South Shore Line because I didn't know much about them - and I am the kind of person who relishes the opportunity to fill the proverbial white spots on the map. I discovered plenty of interesting things, but I was frustrated that NICTD seemed too Chicago-focused to promote them.
If NICTD genuinely wants to increase the off-peak ridership, it needs to promote travel in both directions. There is already a precedent for that. During the heyday of the South Shore Line in the 1920s, its owners advertised the service by highlighting destinations all along the South Shore Line - not just in Chicago. The campaign proved to be so popular that there is is still demand for the posters to this day. Chicagoans used to take the South Shore Line to visit northern Indiana on weekends. Some still do. But there is no reason why they can't visit in greater numbers.
The Indiana Dunes alone are well worth the weekend trip.
Thankfully, the website is still in the early stages of operation. There is plenty of room to built upon what's already there. I can only hope that NICTD doesn't let the opportunity go to waste.