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Transit riders air grievances in Lackawanna march to bus stop

Passengers who frequently use public transportation marched Sunday afternoon along Ridge Road in Lackawanna, calling for "transit justice" and urging the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority to improve service and offer more bus routes.

About 60 marchers traced the steps walked by residents of Lackawanna's First Ward, who on Saturdays must hike at least a mile by foot to catch a bus on South Park Avenue heading south toward McKinley Mall. Depending on where you live in the First Ward, that walk could be much longer, and on Sundays there are no buses. If you want to head east, toward the Southgate Plaza, you're out of luck entirely on weekends for bus service.

And according to bus riders and some political leaders, Lackawanna is just one of many examples of inadequate bus service across Erie County.

"We're marching to restore bus service and routes so that people throughout Buffalo have a fair and accessible transit system," said Andrew Marcum, program director of the Center for Self Advocacy and a frequent bus rider.

"There's a lot of places they used to go out to where the services have been cut," added Hal Lewis, who relies on public transportation daily to get from his home in the City of Tonawanda to a job in downtown Buffalo.

NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said the agency adjusts routes each quarter based on ridership and has reduced routes with small numbers of riders, as do transit authorities across the country. "You can't continue to run a service with one or two people on them. It's not practical," he said.

The Lackawanna routes have had "historically low ridership" and don't warrant additional service at the present time, said Hartmayer.

Transit users recently formed a new group, Buffalo Transit Riders United, in an effort to get their voices heard on transportation issues.

Members of the organization demanded that the NFTA appoint riders who depend on bus service to the board of commissioners that oversees the agency.

"The transit riders make up 25 percent of [NFTA] funding. By my math, that means three of us, chosen by us, should be on that board, because that's 25 percent of the board," said GiGi Tyson, a Buffalo resident who relies on public transportation. In addition to the cutting of routes, Tyson said buses too often don't show up on schedule.

Commissioners are appointed by the governor and the Erie County executive. The NFTA does have a citizens advisory board that consists of riders, and "we meet on a regular basis with them," said Hartmayer. "There is a conduit there to communicate with us on a regular basis."

State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-West Seneca; Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo; and Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder participated in the march, along with Rev. Mark E. Blue, president of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP.

"The fact that the First Ward of Lackawanna doesn't have the 36 bus or the 42 bus running on the weekend, running on Sunday, and we have to walk an entire mile to get to the closest bus stop is not only unconscionable, it's absolutely unacceptable, and we will not stand for it," said Kennedy.

Kearns said he may request that the state comptroller audit the NFTA to provide a better look at how the agency is spending money.

Hartmayer urged state lawmakers to make the case in Albany for additional funding in budget negotiations. A proposed 1.5 percent increase in state transit operating assistance won't be enough to help the NFTA provide any new service or expand service, he said.

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