Area Metro Bus and Rail riders will get two opportunities to speak their minds on the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's fare hike proposal.
The NFTA's board voted Monday to hold public hearings at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3 to get reaction to plans to boost fares to $1.75 from $1.50 Jan. 1, followed by another 25-cent increase to $2 July 1.
The Dec. 2 hearing will be held in the NFTA's Portage Road Transportation Center, 1124 Portage Road, Niagara Falls. The second session will be held Dec. 3 at Erie Community College City Campus, 121 Ellicott St., Buffalo.
Late last week, the transit agency unveiled the phased fare hike to bridge a projected $3.3 million Metro Division budget gap by March 31.
The deficit, resulting in large part from loss of state and federal operating assistance, is forecast to balloon to more than $6 million in the 2009-10 budget year. High fuel costs and the expense of maintaining its aging bus fleet are also eating into the NFTA's Metro budget.
The authority's expenses are also climbing due to the bumper crop of new bus and rail riders that has made the switch to public transportation due to personal budget pressures. While ridership is seeing record increases, fares cover just 24 percent of operating expenses.
In an 8-1 vote, the NFTA board scheduled the two public sessions, ahead of a planned late December vote on the fare increases. Commissioner John Eagan, who cast the only "no" vote, has said it is too early to forecast whether the July increase is necessary.
In other action, the NFTA board approved some $629,000 in repairs and improvements at its Fuhrmann Boulevard boat harbor.
Commissioners also approved a $1.3 million low bid from R&P Oak Hill Development, of Buffalo, for final construction-related creation of a new food court at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.