A row of seats with a name tag on each seat sat empty for 90 minutes Saturday. The chairs were for commissioners of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
A representative of the advocacy group Buffalo Transit Riders United had presented the NFTA's chairwoman, Sister Denise Roche, with an invitation on March 22 to attend Saturday's meeting, held in a room at St. Paul's Cathedral.
"It looks like no one showed up, which is unfortunate, because I think they could have learned from a lot of amazing things that were said today," Transit Riders organizer Holly Nowak said. "We'll make sure to reach out to them again. Maybe they got the wrong day.''
Dennise Barr, a transit rider who said she rides as many as eight buses in a day, took a dimmer view.
"It's unfortunate, but it goes right back to the fact that they're not interested in hearing from the public," Barr said.
NFTA spokeswoman Helen Tederous said the commissioners didn't attend because the NFTA already provides transit riders with a voice through its non-voting Citizens Advisory Committee, on which BTRU has two seats.
"We're always looking to improve operations, but [BTRU] is one of so many different groups, and they really don't speak for all riders," Tederous said.
Of the NFTA's 10 voting commissioners, none depends on bus transportation, according to the BTRU. The group would like that to change and to have one commissioner position reserved for a transit rider.
Legislation introduced by State Sen. Tim Kennedy would create two voting transit user positions, including a paratransit rider. Erie County Legislator April Baskin read a resolution recently introduced lending her support.
"This is about power," BTRU member Andrew Marcum said. "If you don't have a vote, you don't actually have your issues taken up and addressed in an accountable and transparent way. This is not the way a public authority should operate."
The BTRU, which formed in October 2016 as a campaign of the Coalition of Economic Justice, also wants the regular weekday noontime NFTA meetings moved to to Saturdays, when more transit riders could attend.
The 30 people in attendance shared concerns about public transportation that they say are going unaddressed. There were calls for buses to run more frequently and to serve the suburbs for better access to jobs. They want cleaner buses and nicer bus shelters.
They also shared stories about the hardships riders face waiting without any bus shelters in bad weather, and when bus routes are cancelled.
Daniel Seiders said he counted 17 cancellations citywide on a recent day, based on text alerts he receives from the NFTA. He said the frequency of cancellations wreaks havoc on his life.
"It's affected me numerous times trying to get home after a long day at work," Seiders said. "I'm standing in the rain for an hour instead of the five minutes I planned on waiting."