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Audit suggests NFTA cut police department, end free zone

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A state audit released Tuesday calls for reforms at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. The audit was conducted by the state's Authorities Budget Office.  It calls on the authority to eliminate at least part of its police department, and instead work with municipal police agencies. Doing so would result in savings of more than $3 million, the office says.

But NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel says it's not something the authority would consider.

"In my opinion, the safety and security of our system is really paramount to our operations. I think it's imperative that we provide a safe and secure system for the public to use," Minkel told WBFO News.

Minkel says the authority did consider outsourcing police and reducing the size of the department when facing budget concerns roughly one year ago. Some officer positions were eliminated, resulting in nearly $1 million in savings.

The audit also calls on the NFTA to end its "free fare zone" along downtown Buffalo's Metro Rail line.  Minkel says in 2010 the Authority did study that possibility, but she says it would be too costly to put in ticket vending machines.

State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who called for the review in December 2011, says the authority should follow through on many of the recommendations.

“The NFTA has historically always been searching for ways to achieve solvency because they are stretched too thin and are not focused on their core mission which is to provide public transportation. I am pleased that the NFTAs new leadership team has made it clear that public transportation is their top priority and I am hopeful that this audit, combined with the new leadership will help to resolve many of the NFTAs problems going forward," Ryan said in a statement.

"The audit has uncovered many inefficiencies that the NFTA can address immediately, and some that will take time to implement."

The NFTA did institute some reforms last year, include a restructuring of its routes, that saved the authority more than $7 million. 

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