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Discover Niagara Shuttle - free to riders - needs more money

NIAGARA FALLS – The Discover Niagara Shuttle carried some 33,000 riders last year between Niagara Falls and Youngstown, with about a dozen stops in between.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster considers the shuttle critical to keeping tourists around longer. But the shuttle – free to riders – could be shut down or reduce service unless local governments come up with $200,000 to help cover its cost.

"It falls into the category of things that can't be allowed to fail," Dyster said.

The mayor intends to ask the Niagara Falls City Council on Monday to contribute $100,000. Money will also be sought from the Town and Village of Lewiston, the Village of Youngstown, the Town of Porter and Niagara County.

The shuttle was launched last year as an easy way for tourists and residents to travel between Niagara Falls and Youngstown, and the service is scheduled to resume May 15.

"What I'm encouraged about is, the shuttle is increasing people's stays in Niagara Falls," said Niagara Falls Councilman Andrew P. Touma. "A hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money. It's something we'll have to look at and study carefully, but I can see my colleagues supporting it if the numbers continue to improve."

The head of Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown said losing the shuttle would be a blow, based on last year's results.

"I believe they can document at least 4,000 visitors that took the shuttle to the fort," said Robert Emerson, the fort's executive director.

Four thousand people represents about 5 percent of the total number of visitors who came to the fort on their own rather than with organized tour groups. The fort's total visitorship last year was 266,000, but only 85,000 came without a tour group.

"We're big supporters," Emerson said of the shuttle. "I think for the first year, it was a phenomenal performance."

But Artpark, the cultural center in Lewiston, felt little if any impact.

"The bus doesn't come to Artpark. It stops on Center Street," Executive Director Sonia Clark said.

Stops in Niagara Falls include Old Main Street, the city's main Visitor Center, Third Street, the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, the Aquarium of Niagara, the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, the Amtrak station, the Underground Railroad Center and Whirlpool State Park.

The Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University and the Power Vista also are on the list. Besides Center Street, the shuttle also stopped on the Lewiston waterfront and on Main Street in Youngstown.

The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area operated the shuttle bus from May 26 to Oct. 19 last year.

Sara Capen, executive director of the organization, said boaters sailed across Lake Ontario from Toronto, docked at Youngstown and took the shuttle to Niagara Falls.

Others found the service convenient, too.

"They didn't have to worry about driving, about the traffic congestion in Niagara Falls," Capen said. "The benefits are extensive."

Local governments were not asked to contribute to the shuttle service last year.

The shuttle was paid for by USA Niagara Development Corp., the New York Power Authority, State Parks and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. All but USA Niagara made a two-year commitment.

The Power Authority, which came up with the idea of a shuttle, committed $250,000 over the first two years, plus another $100,000 through the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board.

State Parks contributed $200,000 over two years, with the NTCC and the National Heritage Area kicking in $50,000 each for the first two years.

USA Niagara, a state agency, contributed $120,000, but only for 2016.

The original arrangement was for the shuttle to remain free until 2018. Capen said a $50,000 state grant was lined up last year by former Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, but the money has yet to arrive.

Niagara Falls' contribution would come from its "bed tax" on hotel and motel bills, Dyster said.

A Council vote would not occur for at least two weeks, he said.

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