VALPARAISO -- The trip wasn't perfect, but the first run of the ChicaGo Dash express service to Chicago received rave reviews.

"I'll definitely switch over and do this on a regular basis," said Steve Kalich, an Aberdeen subdivision resident who works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The city launched the soft opening of the new express shuttle service for commuters to downtown Chicago at 5:45 a.m. Monday.

About 12 people left on the first bus, and another 10 were on the second bus, which left at 6:15 a.m., said Stu Summers, Valparaiso's executive director of redevelopment.

Commuters were welcomed at the station by a waiting room made from local supplies, including benches that used oak from trees taken down on Vale Park Road. The city provided coffee and other drinks, and passengers could print off their tickets at a kiosk in the station, located at the parking lot of the Franklin House on the corner of Indiana and Campbell avenues.

The service, which started partly as a way for the city to show a need for a South Shore commuter rail line extension to Valparaiso, attracted commuters who said they wanted to save time and money.

Kalich said it takes him 30 minutes to drive to the South Shore station on top of the actual 90-minute train commute. Now his commute is shorter, plus he doesn't have to deal with the crowds on the train, he said.

For Lori Hogan of Valparaiso, the bus is cheaper than parking alone. Hogan said she pays about $13 a day to park at her job west of the Loop. That doesn't include the $5 in tolls and the money on gas she spends driving to work.

"It got a little unreasonable to do that," she said as she rode the bus with her husband, Clark, who normally takes the train into Chicago if he doesn't ride with his wife.

The first outing didn't go perfectly as planned, though. The bus arrived at its first stop at 7:18 a.m. The scheduled time is 7 a.m. The satellite TV showing CNN went in and out at times, especially when the bus went under a bridge or when it was blocked by the tall buildings in downtown Chicago.

Other things did work, though. Several people worked on their laptops during the trip, and Eric Mathisen of Valparaiso said the Wi-Fi Internet worked fine. Mathisen said he liked that he could get some work done on the trip, instead of when he has to drive to his Michigan Avenue law firm.

Larry Stough, director of sales for The Free Enterprise System that runs the service, said the trip was a good one overall.

The company will monitor the routes to see if the buses continue to arrive late, in which case they might tinker with the routes, Stough said.

Summers said the city will pay attention to who's riding the buses to see if they need to change the route. If a majority of people are going to one area in Chicago, it makes sense to go change the route to that area, he said.

He expects eventually to see about 20 to 30 passengers on each bus, which can hold 54 people, although it might take a few weeks, Summers said. Several people have said they already bought an October pass for the South Shore and are waiting to see how the new service does.

Hogan said she didn't think that would be a problem. Once word gets out about the bus, she expects more people will start taking it, she said.

"This is so much more comfortable and convenient," she said.

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