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Free Niagara River tourist shuttle to start in May

NIAGARA FALLS – There will be a free hop-on, hop-off tourist shuttle running between Niagara Falls and Youngstown this season, a state agency official said this week.

The Discover Niagara Shuttle will start running during the second week in May and continue until October, said Paul J. Tronolone, senior project manager at USA Niagara Development Corp. The vehicles will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no more than a 20-minute wait between shuttle visits to any particular stop.

The corporation board voted Wednesday to provide $120,000 toward this year’s estimated $820,000 cost of the service.

According to a memorandum to the board, the idea started with the New York Power Authority, which last year upgraded the Power Vista, the visitor center at the Niagara Power Project, and proposed a shuttle between the Power Vista and Niagara Falls State Park. The federally designated Niagara Falls National Heritage Area then suggested enlarging the idea to cover the entire lower Niagara River.

The result was a two-year pilot program for the shuttle, with the Power Authority providing nearly half the money: $250,000 directly from the authority and $100,000 through the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is providing $200,000, with an additional $50,000 coming from Albany in the form of a member item from Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, D-Lewiston. The national heritage area and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. also are supplying $50,000 each.

Plans call for the same funding sources in 2017, except that USA Niagara is supposed to be out of the picture, with its share being replaced by an anticipated combination of sources that could include the villages of Lewiston and Youngstown, Niagara University, private sponsors and a grant from the Internet company Yahoo, which funds a business development grant program in Niagara County.

There will be no fare this year, but that might change in 2017, as “fare box revenue” also is cited as one of next year’s potential funding sources.

“Wide portions of the heritage area are not served by NFTA bus service,” Tronolone said.

Tronolone said that besides the Falls and the Power Vista, other stops are expected to include Old Fort Niagara, the Stella Niagara Nature Preserve, Center Street in Lewiston, the Niagara Falls train station, the Aquarium of Niagara and the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University.