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NEW TRANSPORTATION LAWS AID DISABLED; NFTA OFFICIAL QUESTIONS WHERE $2 MILLION FUNDING WILL COME FROM

New laws that require more access for handicapped persons on buses and trains will result in greatly expanded services for the disabled beginning in 1992, transportation officials said today.

But leaders of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority also acknowledged they have no idea how they will pay for the new program that could cost $2 million and compete with regular Metro bus and rail service for funds.

"I wish I knew the answer to that question," said Richard T. Swist, NFTA executive director.

"There may be some tough tradeoffs, considering some of the financial situations we're dealing with," added Judith Kuba, chairwoman of the governor's Accessible Transportation Committee, who was here today to discuss the requirements with transit officials.

Because of this year's changes in the state transportation law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, transit authorities everywhere now must provide a totally accessible transportation system as well as "para-transit" options such as door-to-door service. While the NFTA's rail system is 100 percent accessible and 52 percent of buses have wheelchair lifts, the new requirements mean that all new buses must be equipped.

It also means the authority must either purchase wheelchair vans to serve disabled people, or possibly contract that service to private companies.

"Door-to-door service would mean the acquisition of different kinds of vehicles than we have now," Swist said. "But we don't know how many."

Both Swist and Ms. Kuba explained that a regional committee established to study the situation will make recommendations late in 1991. Several options exist on how to meet the requirements, such as curb-to-curb service or door-to-door service, they said. A "subscription" service providing regular transportation to the workplace or school is also a possibility.

Ms. Kuba said the seven-member committee established to work with the NFTA will determine an acceptable level of service for the handicapped, but must bear in mind the cost.

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