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Help the NFTA; Additional aid from state will spare riders from devastating service cuts

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature must find a way to restore $10 million in transit operating assistance for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and then develop a reliable funding stream to ensure that public transportation isn't continually placed in the jeopardy it now faces.

Three members of the Assembly -- John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston; Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo; and Dennis H. Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga -- and Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, have made that request in letters to the governor.

We join those legislators in strongly urging the governor to find the money to stave off devastating service cuts by the NFTA.

It's true that times are tough for the state, as well. But the recent state tax and budget deal provides an extra $250 million for the downstate Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and fairness demands an increase in transit aid for the other end of the state.

Without that money, many commuters relying on the transit system to get to work will find that their bus routes have been eliminated. And rail passengers will find it doesn't run as late as needed on a Sunday night.

NFTA commissioners, facing a huge budget deficit because of increasing costs and decreasing aid, had to make painful choices to get expenses in line with revenue. They recently voted to "right size" -- reduce service -- the local transit system. Three commissioners voted against the service cuts out of concern for commuters who need to get to jobs, instead backing a 25-cent fare hike and more limited service reductions.

While route eliminations and layoffs will not happen until after the public has weighed in on the proposals, the reality is that the NFTA simply cannot afford to continue business as usual.

Up to 170 positions would be eliminated and 22 percent of bus system miles have been slated for elimination, with riders seeing hours reduced by 26 percent. The numbers break down with a ride reduction by almost 18 percent, which means more than 3.7 million fewer rides per year out of a record 30 million that had been projected for 2011-12.

The proposed service cuts could generate $7.1 million in savings to help close a $14.7 million deficit. NFTA departments came up with belt-tightening measures to bring in another $7 million in savings.

There are few good choices in a public transportation system that is facing the same stresses as other transit systems, including Milwaukee, Washington and Pittsburgh. This is an industry-wide economic problem.

A $10 million infusion from the state would allow the NFTA to reduce or eliminate the route cuts, depending on how the board chooses to use any additional funds.

What's needed going forward is a dependable source of revenue that will allow long-term planning, as opposed to fluctuating revenue from sales and mortgage taxes, which rise and fall with the economy.

But that kind of relief is off in the future, and the NFTA's riders need help now. The state should provide an additional $10 million in aid for the system.

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