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METRO BUS, RAIL TO COST MORE STARTING SUNDAY

Starting Sunday, Metro Bus and Rail riders will be digging deeper in their pockets to travel by public transportation.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the Metro system's first fare increases since 1995. The slate of increases will boost the cost of a one-way adult trip from $1.25 to $1.50, while senior citizens, children, the disabled and Medicare recipients will pay a dime more per ride, or 65 cents.

NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler called the fare increase "absolutely necessary," citing an expected $3.6 million increase in bus and rail costs to the agency in its 2003-04 fiscal year. He said the higher fares will ensure that routes are not cut to balance the budget.

"By putting a fare increase in place, we will be able to maintain existing service levels, which we believe is very important to our riders," Meckler added.

While the fare increase was not official until Tuesday's vote, the revised fare structure and the extra dollars it will generate were assumed when the NFTA board approved the current year's $126.8 million budget back in March. The fare increase will contribute an additional $2.1 million to Metro coffers to help defray some of those growing expenses.

Metro riders seem ready to pay an extra quarter to take the bus and rail, with one regular user saying the increase was no surprise.

"The cost of everything goes up. You just figure it would eventually be the bus would cost more, too," said Nathaniel Davis, a Buffalo resident who is a frequent Metro Bus traveler. "What are you gonna do? If you want to get where you're going, you'll have to pay them what they're charging."

Chandra Earle, of Buffalo, is also resigned to paying more for public transportation. "It's still cheaper than owning a car, so I'm not going to complain much as long as the bus comes on time," Earle said.

The across-the-board fare changes also will affect Flash Pass prices. Monthly one-zone adult pases will cost $55, up from $44, while the price of one-zone passes for senior citizens, children and others eligible for discounts will rise to $27.50, from $22.

All-zone passes will cost $66 for adults and $33 for others. Adult transfers will go up 5 cents, to 30 cents.

In other action, the board awarded contracts for expansion and rehabilitation of the so-called "cross winds" runway at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Holmes & Murphy of Orchard Park was the winning bidder for the $12 million project, which is expected to get under way this summer, contingent on release of federal aviation funding.

DiDonato Associates was chosen as project construction monitor in a contract not to exceed $1 million.

The board also gave formal approval for Resource Air Enterprises to lease office space at Niagara Falls International Airport to support Kitty Hawk Cargo. The Texas air cargo handler opened for business at the Niagara Falls airfield May 13 and is seeing early success, according to NFTA executives.

The airport will also see activity from vintage aircraft. The NFTA board approved a contract with the Niagara Frontier Vintage Aircraft Group to exhibit a C-121-A Constellation at the airport July 24-25.

The Tonawanda-based aircraft group will provide a walk-through tour and passenger flights in a World War II-era cargo/troop carrier.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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