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Regional transit advocates push back on federal ask for expanded bus service instead of rail

A map showing the expanded rail lines being proposed
Citizens for Regional Transit
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This map shows the expanded rail lines being proposed.

A local advocacy group for public transit is fighting Washington, D.C.'s suggestion to go back and re-study mass transit with an eye on expanded bus service instead of a new rail line from Buffalo's East Side to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Citizens for Regional Transit was an activist group when the Metro Rail was being built back in the 1970s and continues to be vocal. It has expanded what it's doing, not just pushing for approval to build the rail extension into Amherst, but to build a line to the airport in Cheektowaga through the city's economically worst-off communities.

The group sees it as a way to improve the economy in the neighborhoods by getting people to areas where there are good jobs.

A final decision on building a Metro Rail extension into Amherst nears next year. Now the Federal Transit Administration wants 10 years of study re-studied, this time suggesting a much-expanded bus service connected to rail lines is the way to go.

Citizens President Douglas Funke said that hurts poor people.

"What that says is that people who can afford a car can have a one-seat ride. Anyone who can't afford a car is stuck, having to do a transfer, half-way through their trip. That will be very difficult because the light rail can carry hundreds of people, while the buses are carrying 50. So you are going to have bottlenecks getting off the light rail and getting on the bus," Funke said.

Funke is asking transit supporters to push back against the FTA and urge the group to support a full study of rail service across the East Side, providing service to downtown jobs and suburban jobs, including at the airport.

"Because we haven't invested in our public transportation, it isn't very good," he said. "NFTA does a good job with the budget they've got. Buses are running every 20 minutes. They are stuck in traffic. That's not like high-speed light rail. People who are left taking public transit are poor people. They don't have any political clout and they are easy to ignore."

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.