The selection of a new executive director begins a new era at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. Kimberley A. Minkel becomes the first woman to occupy the post, and her green-minded approach is welcome. Also welcome would be the NFTA's continued emphasis on its basic service -- transportation -- and a gradual departure from ancillary concerns.
The NFTA serves the public best by running an efficient bus and rail system -- sorely needed in one of the nation's poorest cities -- and in providing the airports that link Western New York to the world. The NFTA's good work here can always be made better. In his recent My View column, Greg Slabodkin of Kenmore wrote that recent schedule changes made the bus more complicated for the people who need it most. The NFTA made its changes in the name of efficiency, but continued spikes in the price of gasoline may send even more riders onto the bus and provide a chance to rethink the schedule.
The region has less need for an NFTA trying to become a bigger player in waterfront development. Reading between the lines of some recent comments from NFTA commissioners, they seem to be trying to leverage the authority's ownership of the architecturally significant and well-situated DL&W terminal into a greater role in harbor development. But it's difficult to forget the NFTA's decades of underwhelming results on the waterfront, where it owns 120 acres along the outer harbor. The NFTA would do well to remain a willing partner to Harbor Development Corp. when its assistance is needed.
The NFTA runs a police force, and the new executive director should keep a vigilant eye toward its operations because of warning signs that have flashed before the public. The state comptroller this year confirmed that he found 11 officers working part-time jobs when they were on the NFTA clock, a brazen move to rip off their employer. Then there was the episode where an NFTA officer most likely lied in court about his need to arrest a 65-year-old man he thought had illegally used the bus station restroom. The man was spared a conviction because an onlooker came forward to truthfully say the defendant hadn't fought with the officer at all. Both episodes point to problems lurking within.
Minkel worked her way up to the NFTA's top staff position, so she probably has opinions about how the NFTA can do the most good. She has talked about, among other things, her wish to promote mass transit, to get people to "leave automobiles behind." That sounds good, because the NFTA will do the most good for the greatest number of people by making its bus and rail service the best it can be.