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Santa spreads holiday cheer on Metro Bus

Forget about the sleigh. Reindeer, too.

This Santa Claus has wheels – big wheels.

For passengers on Metro Bus 34 that went up and down Niagara Falls Boulevard on Sunday, it was one special ride.

“I think it’s important as an employee of the NFTA to spread some cheer to our customers,” said Bill Lobuzzetta, a 36-year employee of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority who was riding the bus dressed in a full Santa outfit.

“Is my mustache showing?” he asked.

Lobuzzetta yanked on his Santa beard before digging into a sack for more candy canes to distribute.

Bus 34, called the “shopping line,” travels up and down the boulevard, passing the Boulevard Mall and a growing labyrinth of stores that line the busy thoroughfare. Once home to a fleet of motels, the boulevard has transitioned to become a mecca for shoppers.

This year marked the fourth that Lobuzzetta and two elves (including wife Judy Lobuzzetta) rode the route from the Boulevard Mall to University Station and back, handing out trinkets and candy canes along the way.

The compact Santa said he had wanted to be a police officer just like his father, but his height stood in the way.

“When I found out I was too short, I was devastated,” said Lobuzzetta, who is 5 feet 5½. “So I became a bus driver. Now there is no height requirement. Back then you had to be 5-9”.

A Cheektowaga resident, Lobuzzetta occasionally takes the 24B that runs on Genesee Street. But on Sunday, he was focused on just one route.

“Merry Christmas,” he said to two women sitting behind driver John Evancho of the Town of Tonawanda.

“We just went to Michael’s,” said embroiderer Sharon McGill. In her mid-40s, McGill said she was a first-time bus rider. “I have a car, but it’s cheaper to ride a bus.”

McGill, who purchased an all-day pass, planned to board the 34 again later in the day to visit another craft store. She was accompanied by Vera Schneckenberger who, like McGill, lives in the Riverside Apartments in the former School 60 on Ontario Street.

Santa Lobuzzetta, who works as a supervisor at 93 Oak St. across from the bus station, worked his way up the NFTA ladder.

He excels at rerouting buses for special events and emergencies. He said he was busy during the November storm.

“Everything south of Clinton Street we had to reroute or cancel, and we had to monitor it daily,” said Lobuzzetta, 57. “Some of my bus drivers had to walk three miles to get to a safe location. We had seven buses stuck.”

Across the aisle sat Greg Owens. At age 35, Owens said he still believed in the magic of Santa. On Christmas morning, he will be looking for a crock pot under his tree.

“I love to make beef stew,” said Owens, who wore a bright green wool cap. His stay on the bus was brief, and as he grabbed his many bags he smiled a goodbye.

Santa, too, is a foodie who is wishing for a meat slicer.

“It’s a lot easier to slice the roast beef, let me tell ya,” said Lobuzzetta.

“You can’t get these elves to do everything. They’re unionized now.”