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THE SAN FRANCISCO-Oakland transit system's decision not to offer Alfred H. Savage the post of general manager is welcome news for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which Savage has directed since 1987.

Bay Area Rapid Transit officials said Savage's salary demands played a role in their decision to offer the job to someone else.

Although Savage was not offered the BART post, the fact that he was of the three finalists for the job speaks eloquently about his credentials as one of North America's leading transportation executives. He served as chief regional manager of the Toronto Transit Commission before coming to Buffalo.

Savage acknowledged meeting twice with BART officials, but insisted he told them he was "very happy" in Buffalo and said he does not regret that he was not offered the San Francisco job.

While it is encouraging that Savage is content with his present post, his reputation is such that other major transit systems can be expected to show a continuing interest in luring him away.

One way to help Savage stay happy here would be for the NFTA Board of Commissioners to allow him to do his job as executive director without excessive meddling on its part.

No one questions the board's responsibility for setting broad policy for the NFTA's bus, rail and airport operations. But administrative details should be left to Savage and his staff.

On some recent occasions, the board has overruled Savage for transparently political reasons, something that is bound to feed his sense of frustration.

Also no doubt contributing to Savage's willingness to consider other jobs has been his inability so far to win the Erie County Legislature's approval of a dedicated funding source for the NFTA's transit operations. Obtaining such a source is vital to long-range stability in the region's rail and bus operations.

The Legislature is now committed to providing a transit funding source, contingent on enactment of state reforms in the NFTA structure, but no actual plan has been devised, much less enacted.

In the meantime, Savage is remaining in his NFTA post -- and San Francisco-Oakland's loss in this respect is Buffalo's gain.

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