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Assemblyman wants NFTA review; Ryan calls on state to audit fiscal woes

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan on Thursday called on the state to review operations of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in the wake of its projected $15 million deficit and plans to eliminate 25 percent of its bus routes by next spring.

In a letter to the Authorities Budget Office, which collects annual information on authorities in the state, the Buffalo Democrat said the NFTA is in dire need of an audit of its operations to uncover the source of its long-term fiscal problems.

"They have historic problems that have led to chronic fiscal crisis," Ryan told The Buffalo News.

As a result, the NFTA plans to cut a quarter of its bus routes in Erie and Niagara counties, which Ryan said not only would impede travel for many who rely on public transportation, but would result in "isolating sections of our community from one another."

Ryan called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to replace acting NFTA Chairman Henry M. Sloma, whose term expired more than two years ago, with a permanent chairman.

Noting that the NFTA already has cut Transit Police officers as a means to achieve solvency, Ryan said the authority is stretched too thin.

"Instead of concentrating on bus and rail service, [the NFTA's] core mission, instead [the authority] is also running the Small Boat Harbor and is a large landlord with over 120 acres of land on the outer harbor," Ryan said.

"They also run a second airport, even though the NFTA never articulated why they need a second airport 18 miles away," he added, referring to Niagara Falls International Airport.

"The Niagara Falls airport consistently runs an average $1 million-a-year deficit, but [the NFTA] continues to pour dollars into that airport," Ryan said.

Those shortfalls, he said, are evidence of a systemic problem at the NFTA. Ryan also called on the governor to restore $4.3 million in state aid that was cut from the NFTA's budget, even though he acknowledge that it would not solve the authority's systemic problems.

"I'm committed to restoring aid to the authority, but the fact that the NFTA is in fiscal crisis is nothing new," Ryan said. "I want to see the NFTA prosper, but I do not want to see the drastic cuts in services."