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NFTA apologizes for tardy pickup of disabled rider

B.J. Stasio has cerebral palsy and is in a motorized wheelchair. He depends on specialized public transportation to get him from his job in West Seneca back to his home in North Buffalo.

That ride home on Thursday took him 3 1/2 hours after he said the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Paratransit service "forgot to stop" at the Southgate Plaza, leaving him waiting for 90 minutes.

NFTA spokesperson C. Douglas Hartmayer publicly apologized to Stasio and called Thursday's incident "an atypical situation." But he said that NFTA did not forget to pick up Stasio. The transit agency had a shortage of Paratransit vans available, and was late, Hartmayer said.

Stasio, who leaves work at 4:30 p.m. said he didn't get picked up until 6 p.m. and didn't arrive home until 8 p.m. Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns' staff said they kept their office at the Southgate Plaza open late to allow Stasio to wait inside for his Paratransit bus.

Stasio works for the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities as an advocate. He has been using Paratransit since it first started in the 1990s. Paratransit provides curb-to-curb service for qualified riders with disabilities. Stasio takes it to his job at the OPWDD and also uses the service for errands, recreation and for doctors appointments. He said on Thursday when it become clear his ride wasn't coming that he eventually called a provided number and was picked up, but he said the driver told him he had to forgotten to make the scheduled stop at the Southgate Plaza.

Hartmayer said the driver did not forget to stop, but the van was very late.

"We do provide good reliable, safe, on-time service to all of our Paratransit customers," Hartmayer said. "Complaints about late service are actually down in this calendar year, compared to 2016."

Kearns' office in the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca sits next to a pickup site for Paratransit service. Kearns, D-West Seneca, said his office often provides warmth to those who wait for the bus, usually a 15- to 20-minute wait.

"One of the most important things for people with disabilities is transportation. Eighty percent of the people who want to work can't work because of lack of transportation to their jobs," said Kearns.

Kearns told The Buffalo News on Sunday that he hopes to meet with the NFTA to go over logs for Paratransit drivers and see if this has happened to other riders.

"This should not happen. It's getting worse and worse," said Kearns. "I have people coming to my office asking for rides because the NFTA is not coming on time."

Stasio echoed Kearns. "All we want is accountability and an explanation as to why this happened," said Stasio.

Kearns said this incident wouldn't cause him to reject NFTA funding, but he said it should certainly be addressed when the NFTA asks for additional funds.

He said Sunday he wanted to sit down with NFTA officials as soon as possible to make sure disabled riders are not stranded again.

"They have a responsibility to the community and I don't feel like they are doing what they are supposed to be doing," added Kearns.

Hartmayer, who spoke to The News on Monday, said NFTA officials would sit down with the assemblyman anytime.

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