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Transportation to suburban jobs remains challenge for some city residents

A Metro Bus driving down a street.
File Photo
Bus service is time-consuming and limited from Buffalo to Western New York suburbs.

You know the routine: You get into your car and drive to work somewhere outside of Buffalo where you work hard and get paid well and think about looming retirement, when the boss will have to find a replacement. That replacement may not be easy to find.

Anyone involved in economic development knows about the array of those upcoming suburban job openings and the problem some replacement workers will have getting there.

"Transportation is a huge issue in this community for people who don't own cars and it's almost impossible to get around this community without one, unless you've got three hours to go somewhere," said Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and CEO Dottie Gallagher. "If you're living in the city and you want to go out Walden Avenue or out to Clarence, that's half a day's work."

At a recent and well-attended job fair at the Delavan Grider Community Center, Angel Burgos was checking out the jobs available, knowing he already had a car. An electronics student at the Northland Workforce Training Center, Burgos said you have to work at it if you want the good jobs.

"It's tough to get a job," he said. "It might be tough to get there, but if you want to get money in your pocket, you want to become somebody, you got to take those chances. You know what I'm saying?"

Welding trainee Noel Davis said there are always good-paying jobs for welders, and a car helps him get a job.

"If you get out later throughout the day, such as me — I get out at 4:30 — it's kind of hard for me to find a job that'll work with me," Davis said. "If I get out at 4:30, it's like if I don't have my own personal vehicle, it might take me 30-45 minutes to get to work, which means now I'm not getting to work until about 5-5:15 and most jobs really want their shifts to start around 5."

Tejh is looking for a career start. She admits it's likely to be in Buffalo, since she doesn't have a car, while being offered suburban jobs.

An entranceway inside the Northland Workforce Training Center in Buffalo.
Michael Mroziak
Buffalo's Northland Workforce Training Center trains city workers, but they may not get jobs if they don't have transportation to get to work.

Buffalo Employment and Training Center Executive Director Demone Smith said that's part of the basic shift in the job hunt for city residents he's seeing.

"Well, I'll just get a job at the Dollar General around the corner," Smith said. "There are a number of jobs out in suburban communities and so in those jobs, it's been a hard time to get people there."

Smith said the training center works with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to create special bus routes to suburban job areas.

"Then, after about a month, everybody has got them a used car and is no longer taking the bus. So now you've got an empty bus that's going out to these places that they were specially designed. So that's kind of the Catch 22," he said.

The NFTA can add, subtract, expand or change service routes, like the recent cuts in suburban services or changes through Lackawanna. Public Transit Director Thomas George said changing service is never simple.

"I wouldn't just say it's complicated," George said. "Obviously, it's challenging because of resources and you want to make sure that when you're going to add a route or extend a route that you're really doing it with the best benefit you can, so that you're really getting the ridership. We talk to employers all the time who believe they are going to get ridership."

George said there are standard starts to conversation.

"Okay, great. But can you flex your start time? Can you modify your start? Can you move the people who need buses to a different shift? Can you do those things which'll better align with what we already have or what we can do? And we see a lot of employers that are willing step right up and do that. Others? Not so much," he said.

Gallagher said there is a lesson in what happened at the burgeoning office park in Amherst, which started with GEICO and a Metro Bus route.

"And one of the reasons they agreed to come to Buffalo was a caveat, that there would be a direct bus from they city out to Amherst, which they got and NFTA was able to do," she said. "Well, they got the jobs there and they are great jobs out there and GEICO pays very well. And guess what people started to do: they started to buy cars. So then they're not riding the bus. So then they're saying, well we can't afford to keep the bus. It's a terrible conundrum."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.