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Efforts to "sell" the Metro Rail and Bus systems to potential riders could take the beleaguered NFTA back to school and back on the airwaves, under proposals submitted Friday to the agency's budget committee.

Responding to suggestions released earlier this week by a consulting firm, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority marketing also would use direct mail and other targeted efforts to try to restore ridership levels. Ridership has been eroded by recent threats to shut down public transportation for lack of money.

Proposals for $1.2 million in public relations and marketing efforts were outlined for the agency's budget review committee, which is trying to put together the NFTA's next annual spending plan.

"This is definitely a wish list," said NFTA Commissioner Ronald Anthony. "I'm not saying we're going to go along 100 percent with these proposals, because we're at the point of survival."

Five-year marketing strategies seek to stop the decline, restore the lost ridership -- projected as a three-year effort -- and then add another 2 percent in ridership for each following year.

"This is an optimal approach," said Diane E. Hanratty, NFTA general manager of public affairs. "This is the best of all possible worlds."

"We're not there, Diane," countered Commissioner Glenn Hackett of Niagara County. "We're not in 'the best of all possible worlds.' "

Citing the consultants' report released this week by McKinsey & Co., which called for focusing efforts on increasing ridership revenues, he added that "those are the areas that need promotion."

"It looks to me like we've got some things that are nice, but they're not necessary," he said. "We've got ridership problems, and we've got to bolster the fare box."

Under the proposals outlined for the budget committee, NFTA staff would use a "shotgun" marketing approach with direct mail, radio and newspapers as the major advertising tools.

Under the plan, the agency would spend $580,000 on advertising, $110,500 on marketing research and $208,000 on marketing promotions ranging from updated system maps and a rider information center to transit publications and automated telephone information systems.

A $300,000 public relations program would include resuming publication of a newsletter; producing brochures on topics such as the Small Boat Harbor; special events, including activities geared toward the fifth anniversary of Metro Rail service; a speakers bureau; video productions and resumption of the "NFTA Digest" television show; employee publications; and an airport master plan brochure and airport history book.

The proposal, increased from a $130,000 budget last year, also would include $45,000 to develop an NFTA school pilot program that would explain bus and rail usage to children and discourage graffiti and vandalism.

"What we'd like to do this year is start a pilot program for students in grades K through 4," said Ms. Hanratty. "We'd like to start small and see where it goes."

Commissioner Robert Gioia, Gov. Cuomo's choice as the new NFTA chairman, urged the public affairs manager to develop a list of priorities for the various programs.

"We really want to target in on ridership and the general, overall mission of the NFTA," he said.

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