Antonya Quinones of Lackawanna’s First Ward does not have a car. The mother of four can barely afford to put food on the table – and that’s only if she can catch a bus to a grocery store.
But most buses in the First Ward do not run on weekends, and there are no grocery stores in the First Ward.
Residents of the First Ward gathered Thursday night at the Willie Cotton Center on Gates Avenue to express concerns over what they called a lack of bus services provided by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
The meeting was attended by First Ward Councilman Abdul Noman, Second Ward Councilwoman Annette Iafallo, Council President Keith Lewis, Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, New York State Assemblyman Mickey Kearns and a representative of State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy.
Officials from the NFTA in attendance included C. Douglas Hartmayer, director of public affairs, Tom George, director of public transit, and Rob Jones, metro manager of service planning.
John Ingram, an employee of the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority, organized the meeting, the third in the past year, to call attention to the growing concern by MHA residents over a lack of bus service.
“Right now the City of Lackawanna is locked down,” said Ingram. “I know a woman who gets up at 4 a.m. to get to work on time. It’s horrible. We do not have the service we need.
“After 5:30 p.m., if I want to go to Tops or K-Mart, I have to walk three miles there and three miles back,” said Ingram.
Concerns over inadequate bus service were shared by employers and school officials in Lackawanna.
Judy Faircloth, community outreach coordinator for Lackawanna City Schools, told officials that parents are also feeling the bus gap.
“For our parents who don’t drive, there are no buses that take them to schools,” said Faircloth. “They can’t get to parent-teacher conferences. They can’t get to their children’s concerts or family nights.
“We’re a struggling school district and we need our parents to be a part of it,” Faircloth said.
Jeffrey P. Bell, director of community development for Baker Victory Services, told officials his employer cannot hire people from the First Ward because “they can’t get to our Martin Road campus. Right now we’re in a hiring crisis. There are 35 openings for employees with a GED requirement."
George responded: “A lot of times we work with employers to identify where your employees are and what service they need,” he said. “We understand there are needs for service, but we have more than 330 buses and 600 operators. If we add services here, we take them from somewhere else.”
Kearns, who does not represent the First Ward, attended the meeting because he represents most of the remaining three wards in Lackawanna.
“We would we willing to put together a small survey and contact residents of Lackawanna for a list of their comprehensive needs,” Kearns told the audience. “It would help to make the decisions on where bus service is needed.”
Quinones, who was with her 10-year-old son Emmanuel, said she takes her children to the doctor’s using bus transportation.
“We take the 42 bus down Abbott to the doctor, and sometimes we freeze when it’s windy because there is no shelter,” Quinones said. “We can’t go on weekends because there is no service. And on weekday nights, I can’t get to his school on Martin Road.”