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Activists fighting to save Lockport's to-be-dropped Bus 201

Although many of the Metro Bus routes that were threatened by cutbacks have been saved, a route within Lockport is slated to be dropped as of May 13.

A collection of faith-based activists is planning a last-ditch effort to save Bus 201, a MetroLink route that runs on weekdays, serving many of the less affluent areas in the city and town of Lockport.

Bus 201 makes nine circuits a day and takes 45 minutes to complete its route.

Karen Carroll, one of the organizers of the "Reinstate Bus Route 201" coalition, said a meeting for those interested in saving the service is set for 2 p.m. Monday in the Dale Association, 33 Ontario St.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he plans to attend the meeting. He also said he met with Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel and NFTA Chairman Henry M. Sloma after the April 5 announcement of funding for runway repaving at Niagara Falls International Airport, and he urged them to take another look at Bus 201.

"I hate to see any bus service being cut," Maziarz said.

NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said NFTA staffers sampled 402 circuits by Bus 201 from January through March, and found the average number of passengers was 39 per day, or a little over four per trip.

"It wasn't a decision that we made lightly. It wasn't a decision we made whimsically," Hartmayer said.

The NFTA says it costs a bit more than $872 per day to operate Bus 201. With 254 service days in a year, the tab is $221,714, Hartmayer said. Divided by the average of 39 passengers, the cost per passenger is $22.38.

"The reason we're fighting for 201 is because it's a loop route that goes through the city and town of Lockport, past a number of apartment buildings," Carroll said.

It connects residents of Urban Park Towers, the Spires, Lockport Housing Authority properties and the Woodlands mobile home park to shopping opportunities on South Transit Road, including Tops and Walmart.

The route also runs down Main Street and East Avenue in the city, passing downtown stores, the Lockport post office and Eastern Niagara Hospital.

Without access to the big stores on South Transit, Carroll said, "They'll have to do their grocery shopping in a drugstore or a convenience store setting, which of course is much more expensive."

Besides shopping, the cancellation of Bus 201 limits access to jobs at those stores.

"Medicaid or Social Services demands that people find work," Carroll said, and retailers are a main source of jobs for low-skill applicants.

The Metro Bus fare is $1.75, which will rise to $2 as of May 1. Carroll said that's still far cheaper than taxis.

Carroll said of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, "They never came to Lockport to hold any kind of public hearing. We're having the public meeting they never had."

There were two public hearings in Niagara County on the bus cuts, but both were held in Niagara Falls.

Sloma said several hearings were held and people from Lockport spoke at those hearings.

"Reinstate Bus Route 201" is a collection of churches and human service agencies, including the Dale Association, the Lockport Housing Authority, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and its Outreach Center, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Brother's Keepers Food Pantry and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH.

Sloma said he's not coming to Monday's meeting because of NOAH's involvement. He said he met with the group previously and didn't care for the tone.

"All they were concerned about was when I was going to be replaced. I thought, 'Why am I here?' " Sloma said.

Sloma's successor, Howard A. Zemsky, has been appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo but not yet confirmed by the State Senate.

Sloma said the NFTA already cuts Niagara County slack on bus service. The authority seeks to have 25 percent of the costs of its Erie County routes covered by fares, but in Niagara County, the target is 10 percent.

"If we held Niagara County to the Erie County standard, there would be no routes in Niagara County, maybe one," Sloma said. "I don't know if people understand we give Niagara County a greater amount of consideration."

Carroll said the Bus 201 effort started when one of the group's members had a conversation about the topic with a worker at St. John's Outreach. After that, a coalition member rode Bus 201 and discovered that the regulars didn't know it was going to be canceled, despite media coverage of the NFTA's bus shutdown threats.

Sloma said, "What's odd is, we run this equipment and three or four people get on it, and then we hold a public hearing and 100 people show up. I wish 100 people would get on the bus."

"We definitely have the impression the NFTA has made up its mind, but we're not going to let this die without making an effort," Carroll said.

Maziarz said he and Sloma have given some thought to the notion that the county's federally subsidized Rural Transportation System, which runs buses connecting outlying communities with Lockport, Niagara Falls and Niagara County Community College, might be able to pick up the slack.

The big impact of the loss of Bus 201 might be the corresponding loss of paratransit, a service offered to disabled people who live within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route. No bus route means no paratransit, Sloma said.

Sloma said Medicaid would require the county to provide transportation services for its clients who lose paratransit access. He estimated that might cost the county $4 million.

"That's the hidden impact in all this," Sloma said.