Like a senior citizen on a fixed income, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is faced with the unhappy circumstance of having to reduce service on its regular transit routes in order to muster the money to provide mandated special service for the disabled.
In a recent year, the largest portion (38.6 percent) of NFTA transit-operating costs were paid by the loyal bus and rail riders. The next larger contributor was the State Legislature through its generous Statewide Transit Operating Assistance Program, which paid about three-quarters as much as did the riders (31.2 percent of the whole).
Uncle Sam, through the Federal Transit Administration, was next (12.2 percent). Last were the counties of Erie and Niagara (17.9 percent).
The full-fare riders, in fact, subsidize all of the federal- and state-mandated burdens on transit systems, such as half-fares for the elderly and the handicapped, operation and maintenance of wheelchair lifts on buses, drug testing for drivers, demand-responsive service for the disabled and a multitude of other requirements that make the provision of transit service uneconomical.
This is not to say that such requirements are not worthy, but only to complain that federal money does not accompany the mandates and therefore their costs must be met locally.
And, inasmuch as the short Metro Rail line carries about 25 percent of all transit passengers in the two-county region, the rail riders contribute disproportionately to the cost of operating the whole transit system.
Erie and Niagara counties should lobby the federal government to increase, rather than decrease, its share so that the region can enjoy a healthy transit system without undue burden on local governments.
GORDON J. THOMPSON
Urban Transportation Planner/Consultant