While short of the goal, budget provides much-needed additional transit funding - The Buffalo News

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While short of the goal, budget provides much-needed additional transit funding

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority may not have gotten everything it wanted from the state budget, but it did win a significant increase in funding. For that, authority officials and the riding public are grateful.

The newly adopted budget increases aid to the NFTA and all other upstate agencies by 2.97 percent. That is significantly more than the governor’s proposed 1.35 percent increase, which amounted to only $605,000 in additional aid. Instead, there will be a $1.3 million increase for the NFTA.

The increase recognizes the vital role mass transit plays in the state. That is especially true in Buffalo, where thousands of new employees will be working at the Medical Campus, where there is limited parking.

The budget also introduces a new funding system that moves away from a tax based on petroleum purchases and instead focuses on sales tax revenue.

Ironically, higher gas prices tend to steer motorists to reduce gasoline purchases, reducing revenue and leading more people to use mass transit.

Boosting state aid from the 1.35 percent previously proposed to nearly 3 percent, as NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky said, is a big jump. The fact that it might mean virtually no reduction in service is, as he said, extremely important and allows the NFTA to concentrate on its mission.

The NFTA is doing a good job, as noted months ago by the Federal Transit Administration when it determined that the state must substantially increase the dollars it sends to the authority. The FTA noted the authority’s good job managing operations effectively and efficiently. Of course, more funding would boost those good works.

The NFTA’s state funding for operating assistance now comes to about $46.3 million, the highest among upstate transit agencies. And a significant capital plan is reportedly expected to send at least $10 million to upstate transit agencies, with one source indicating that the final number could even reach $12 million as part of a $43.7 billion fund for capital projects statewide. The NFTA should have the public’s full support in its pursuit of those funds.

The authority holds a unique position among upstate transportation agencies in that it provides a light rail service. It is the reason the NFTA earlier requested – and certainly deserves – a 5 percent increase. While the final tally did fall short of that goal, the solid increase is much appreciated.

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