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Riders, elected officials voice displeasure over NFTA cuts to bus routes at Erie County Legislative hearing

A Buffalo Academy of Science student (right) details her public transportation issues as Fillmore District Councilman Mitch Nowakowski looks on.
Thomas O'Neil-White
A Buffalo Academy of Science student (right) details her public transportation issues as Fillmore District Councilman Mitch Nowakowski looks on.

A student from the Buffalo Academy of Science went before the Erie County Legislature Wednesday to detail her problems trying to take public transit on a regular week day:

“Due to a lack of communication about route cuts and route changes and all of that it really affects my schedule and they don't really give any resolution to the problem we just don't hear from them when they'll be back. They're just gone,” she said.

A disparity in routes and route times has her and many other public transit regulars up in arms since the changes were made at the start of the pandemic.

“So, on top of that the night buses and certain areas have changed like they were talking about from like hours apart sometimes those buses don't show up and sometimes you miss those buses that results in you waiting for two hours I can’t rely on Metro to get to my after-school activities at night which results in me walking for miles in the dark,” she said.

She joined a chorus of elected officials, public transit advocates and transit worker union officials calling for change during a special meeting of the Erie County Legislature’s Economic Development committee Wednesday.

Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson is proposing a resolution calling for the NFTA to end service cuts, restore previously cut routes and create a hiring incentive program for prospective bus drivers. This is a similar resolution passed in Buffalo’s Common Council in February.

Thomas O'Neil-White
NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel addresses the Erie Count Legislature Wednesday

NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the NFTA hard-- including a 50-percent loss in ridership. This reality has led to the changes made over the past two years.

“We thought it was important that we let the public know and have scheduled service so that people wouldn't be standing out in the cold waiting for buses that didn't show up,” she said. So out of respect to the public, making certain that people had reliable service. That they could look at a schedule and know when to go to the bus stop so they weren't standing in the cold.”

Minkel said the route suspensions are temporary but skepticism remains as to whether the routes will come back at all.

Fillmore District Common Council member Mitch Nowakowski said the public needs to be patient with the process because nothing will be changed overnight.

“Yeah that's not gonna happen,” he said about an expedited resolution to the problems. “And we know that persistence will pay off and that by coming together with the NFTA and having these conversations will hopefully move the needle forward and get the outcomes that we seek to achieve and that were heard here in the hearing.”

Nowakowski expects other elected officials to coalesce around this issue and work with NFTA on a plan which is beneficial to all parties.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.