By GiGi Tyson
I am a Buffalo transit rider. I have been primarily reliant on public transportation since 2013, when I decided to go car-free after the costs from my husband’s cancer swallowed up our already-limited income.
I had used public transportation as a teenager in Buffalo, as well as the many cities I have lived in or traveled to before coming back home. I had a very favorable opinion of public transportation and assumed our local service, managed by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, would be a fine alternative to having a car.
I was wrong. As a caregiver to Mike, whose health was deteriorating from cancer, I was constantly inconvenienced by the NFTA’s obvious failings at effectively managing the publicly funded public transportation. Late buses, no-show buses and infrequency of buses led to people being squeezed in – not a good situation for Mike, who had parts of his spine removed.
Filthy buses, trains and train stations, and bus stops and shelters that are not cleared of snow, so people have to climb over a mound of snow and wait in the street, were also not an easy task for Mike, who began to need a walker for stability.
Mike sadly passed away in June 2015, and now I am taking what I learned as a caregiver to be an advocate for myself and other public transit riders.
Since last December, I have been on a mission to learn as much as possible about how public transportation operates in Western New York and meet people from various communities and agencies who have been working for years to improve public transportation for riders, with little to no response from the NFTA.
The NFTA is running on public money and should therefore be accountable to the public. The 2018 budget for the NFTA breaks down its funding this way: About 36 percent from state funding, 25 percent from fares, 25 percent from local funding, 14 percent from federal funding and 1 percent from other sources.
As of today the NFTA Board of Commissioners has only one member, Margo Dawn Downey, who represents transit riders and the disabled community, and she has no voting rights.
If transit riders make up 25 percent of the funding for the NFTA, shouldn’t we have at least a 25 percent stake in the 12-member board – three voting members chosen by the riders?
This way, projects that riders need will have priority over desired projects that will stand to benefit private entities and hypothetical new riders.
Shouldn’t current riders be the first source of research before spending major amounts of money with out-of-state private companies? For instance, the scheduling for our bus system is coming from a group in California; does it even understand driving conditions and times in the winter?
People from all over Western New York are uniting to form an advocacy group for riders. We have a lot to say and we want the accountability owed to us not only by the NFTA but the politicians as well.
GiGi Tyson, of Buffalo, is an organizer for Buffalo Transit Riders United through the Coalition for Economic Justice.