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Metro Bus riders urge the NFTA to avoid cutting routes to plug deficit

Metro Bus riders were adamant in their appeals to Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials Monday to avoid bus route reductions and service cuts to plug a $15 million hole in the authority's 2012 operating budget.

Nearly 100 people attended a public hearing at the Erie Community College North Campus to vent their concerns or offer alternative measures. The public hearing was the first of five such meetings scheduled by the authority's board of commissioners to get reaction to plans to cut 22 percent of its bus routes by April 1.

"First, let me say, I'm for the fare increase of 45 cents, of $2, $5," said Mark Dimino of the Town of Tonawanda, one of the early speakers at Monday's hearing.

Kimberley Minkel, executive director for the authority, opened the hearing by offering reasons why authority officials believe the service cuts are necessary, noting that only a quarter of the authority's operating budget is paid for through fares from riders.

The rest, Minkel said, is covered by local taxes and state aid, the latter of which was cut by $4.3 million in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget.

Richard Olday, who did not identify the community where he resides but identified himself as "representing all transit riders in Western New York, said a fare increase would be preferable to further reductions in bus routes and service cuts.

"Public transit is a connector, providing circulation and access for people in our community. Approximately 30 percent of city adults cannot afford an automobile, while many others choose not to drive. They're dependent on public transit to reach jobs, schools, stores and entertainment. Forecast increases for gasoline will only add to these numbers," Olday said.

Bryan Meyers, an ECC student trustee, presented authority officials a petition signed by fellow students who are opposed to plans to cut a bus route that takes students from the ECC City Campus to both the college's South and North campuses.

He noted that students pay a $70 fee every semester, and almost half of that goes to a bus pass through the NFTA so students can get to school and work.

"For a lot of students, that opened up a way to go out to South Campus for a tech degree or to North Campus for the various degrees that we have here but don't have at City Campus. If those cuts happen, students won't be able to finish out the semester," he said.

Mark Crehan of Amherst, who lives with a physical disability, said Metro Bus is invaluable to him.

"It's given me the opportunity to live an independent life and accomplish many things [they include] working for the Buffalo Bills, earning my master's degree at Canisius College and holding a full-time job," he said.