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Editorial: Improved ranking still leaves NFTA with a long way to go

That Metro Bus and Metro Rail rank No. 22 out of 49 systems in the nation for quickly moving people from their homes to workplaces is hardly worth celebrating.

Yes, the system run by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority dug itself out of the depths of its No. 29 ranking the previous year, according to a University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory study. Still, it’s a long way from No. 1 or, more realistically, somewhere in the top 10.

The Accessibility Observatory study offered higher rankings to transportation systems that could get the largest percentage of passengers to their jobs in 10 minutes or less, calculated on the basis of walking and making transfers.

The study is just the latest measure of how much work the NFTA has to do. Ridership is melting away, having gone from 31.6 million annual trips in 1992 to 26.3 million this year. One way to increase ridership and possibly climb in the rankings is to ensure reliable service.

Passengers tend not to be left out in the cold, heat, rain and snow when it comes to the Metro Rail. All that good work can be overshadowed, however, when the cars on Main Street project reduces Metro Rail to a single track, inconveniencing riders.

Metro Rail is a great benefit for Buffalo, offering easy access to downtown residents, workers, students and especially hockey and baseball fans. Its advantage is real, even at its paltry 6.4-mile length.

Now with the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus coming into full bloom with the opening of Oishei Children’s Hospital and the University at Buffalo Medical School, the rail system will play an even bigger transportation role. The same, of course, holds true for Metro Bus, which, just like its rail counterpart, must run on time.

What is troubling is the complaint of one rider interviewed for a recent article on the transit study. “On average, about once a week, one of my buses just doesn’t show up at the scheduled time,” she said. The wait times stretched 15 to 30 minutes for the next bus, risking a missed connection. In this case, the SPCA Serving Erie County lost a volunteer because of the uncertainty of getting from Kenmore to the SPCA location on Harlem Road.

This is one anecdote. There are others of futile waits for buses that didn’t arrive, or passengers dropped off in snow-clogged bus stops.

The NFTA, which provides transit service for both Erie and Niagara counties, has many challenges, including maintaining or replacing aging equipment while wrenching every dollar possible from state and federal governments.

It also has ambitious plans. There is the development of the former DL&W Terminal at the foot of Main Street and a hoped-for $1.2 billion extension to Amherst.

Public transportation will have to play a large role in the region’s future, and while moving up the rankings is good, 22nd is still not good enough.

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