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Metro changes aimed at modernizing dated system

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The NFTA is rolling out major changes in the operation of Metro Bus and Rail as it prepares to go to a new fare collection system and to put in a turnstile system for the subway. A thinly-attended meeting in Niagara Falls City Hall Wednesday night heard about the plan. There is another session at 5 p.m. Thursday today in Buffalo's Central Library.

The new fare system, which involves a high-tech system of swipe cards and smartphone apps, might cost as much as $20 million. NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel says faster fare collection will speed up service by getting people on board buses faster.

"You can walk in and you don't go through a turnstile and it's easy to get in and easy to get out. Going forward, that will change. It needs to change. There are security implications. It's better to have a more secure system. But, it also allows us to get real data on the rail system so we know which stations are being utilized," Minkel said.

Computerized systems are increasingly common in public transportation systems around the world, with massive systems like London using one swipe card for everything from boats on the River Thames to high-speed commuter trains. Right now, around 40 percent of NFTA revenue for bus and rail comes in the form of cash.

"You are actually making a pretty big leap from a very old system to very leading-edge system. There aren't that many systems out there that are account-based systems. What that means is that your card has no value any more. So, when you tap your card, it goes out to the back end and lit looks at your account to see if you have value," said Jennifer Bexenski, from consultant LTK.

Desiree Wlodarek, with Independent Living of Niagara County, says she is encouraged by what is proposed.

"I represent people with disabilities and it's important to make sure that the fare cards are accessible to people, whether they are blind, deaf or mobility challenged, and that this is going to work as well on the regular transit and it will work on the paratransit, as well," Wlodarek said.

The new system is expected to be in place in about two years.

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.
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