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Plan addresses transportation needs

The transportation needs of elderly, disabled and low-income residents in Erie and Niagara counties are the focus of a plan approved Friday by the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

The Human Services Transportation Plan is required by federal legislation, and Buffalo-Niagara's is the first one in the state to be approved, said Hal Morse, executive director of the regional organization.

A team of representatives from human services agencies in the two counties will be appointed to identify areas where public transportation is lacking and recommend ways to fill the gap.

The regional council will submit the recommendations to the state later this year for the appropriate funding to buy buses, vans and other vehicles, Morse said.

More than 14 percent of households -- about 67,000 -- in the two counties have no vehicles, according to 2000 Census figures.

The same statistics showed that almost 12 percent of the population in the two counties -- 136,000 people -- live at or below the poverty level.

In the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, the percentage of poor residents is highest: 26 percent in Buffalo and nearly 20 percent in Niagara Falls. All the figures have since increased, according to Census estimates.

The numbers of elderly and disabled people also are increasing, the regional council found in a study of the region.

People age 65 and older make up about 30 percent of the combined population of the two counties, the report found.

A large percentage of the senior and disabled population lives outside the City of Buffalo in assisted-living and senior housing complexes that are usually located in suburban and rural areas where there is little or no public transit.

"Transportation is a vital quality of life issue for older adults and the disabled," the report concluded.

The regional council said it will select a seven-member review team that includes members from each of the following agencies in Erie and Niagara counties: Department of Social Services, Office for the Aging, and Workforce Investment Board.

The seventh committee member will represent the state Department of Labor's Division of Employment Services.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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