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NFTA puts sharper teeth in fines for transit offenses ; Policy update brings increase in penalties

If you run afoul of transit police officers at places such as Buffalo Niagara International Airport or aboard Metro Rail, be prepared to fork over much stiffer fines.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on Monday approved a new fine schedule, replacing one that, for the most part, has not been updated since subway service began in 1984.

The new schedule of fines for everything from fare evasion aboard buses and trains to speeding at the airport results from a study conducted by new Transit Police Chief George W. Gast. He said the new fines are more in sync with those charged by other area municipalities. "We didn't have the ability to write some tickets for newer laws, like seat belts or cell phones," Gast said. "We also found the fine structure was not commensurate with those of other communities."

As a result, violators of rules against loitering, littering or consuming food or beverages on Metro vehicles will pay $20 fines instead of $10. The fine for the most common NFTA violation -- fare evasion -- remains at $50.

But a number of other traffic- and vehicle-related violations can now result in a Class C offense that rises from $25 to $75 and doubles to $150 if not paid within 10 calendar days. Parking violations at the airport will rise from $30 to $60.

"Parking tickets just aren't what you would get in Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Amherst," Gast said. "Same with moving violations. Speeding was $20, and you get a speeding ticket anywhere else, and it's a minimum of $100."

Gast also said some violators complained about fines of $50 for fare evasion and $25 for more serious offenses such as disorderly conduct. Now, fare evasion remains at $50, but disorderly conduct rises to $75.

"I think the public had a legitimate complaint on that," he said.

The NFTA Board of Commissioners also approved the new service adjustments and fare schedules proposed by the authority in January. The plan calls for eliminating transfer charges and zoned fares as part of a comprehensive restructuring that officials hope to fully implement by Oct. 31.

Implementation of the plan follows a series of public hearings that resulted in only minor changes.

Changes to the Metro fare structure will take effect Sept. 1. The simplified format maintains the fare at $1.75 and, in addition to eliminating zoned fares, does away with bus-to-bus transfers.

Other changes will reduce the price of monthly passes from $77 to $64, while day passes remain at $4.

Service changes include:

*Discontinuing the No. 51 Military-Summit route, the No. 56 River Road route and the No. 207 Elmwood Circulator, in addition to segments on other routes with low ridership.

*Improving the frequency on 15 heavily used routes, with weekday service at a minimum of every 15 minutes.

*Adding suburban feeder routes.

*Extending rail service on Sundays.

"The service and fare analysis is one of the most meaningful projects Metro has undertaken," said Commissioner Eunice A. Lewin, chairwoman of the Surface Transportation Committee. "The restructuring of our service will offer more options to riders, an uncomplicated fare structure and improve operational efficiency."

Walter D. Zmuda, director of surface transportation, said the hearing process resulted in 13 modifications to the original plan.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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