Just one day after transit officials approved a new 10-year lease for New York Trailways at Buffalo’s downtown bus station, the bus company’s president says he can’t wait to bolt for the new bus/rail facility planned in the Exchange Street area.
Trailways will join Amtrak as soon as possible at the new station recommended for the Exchange Street areas, said Eugene J. Berardi Jr., president of Trailways and its New York, Adirondack and Pine Hill divisions.
And Greyhound Lines, the downtown station’s other major tenant, was clear about its ultimate goal after negotiating a new lease.
“We are very supportive of the efforts to centralize traveling options in Buffalo,” said Greyhound spokeswoman Allison Morrison.
This all could spell the end of more than 40 years of intercity bus carriers like Trailways and Greyhound using the NFTA’s downtown station, while resulting in a “intermodal” facility on Exchange Street.
“We’re very, very excited about the city’s effort to build a new facility,” said Berardi, who represented intercity bus lines on the site commission for a new station that Mayor Byron W. Brown headed.
An Exchange Street station serving bus and train passengers also will better serve travelers to downtown events while providing a direct Metro Rail connection, Berardi added.
“If that bus station is down there, it will do very, very well,” he said. “This concept and this vision is right for downtown Buffalo.”
Berardi said the new leases contain “out clauses” that he expects Trailways will exercise to end its status as an NFTA tenant. He hopes the state or some other entity will help defray early termination penalties of one year’s rent through the agreement’s first six years to achieve the intermodal station goal.
But a Trailways move out of the present terminal may result in the loss of about $674,000 annually in lease revenues for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, according to Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel. It also could leave unused many of the 21 gates at the downtown Metropolitan Transportation Center.
Minkel said the possible departure of intercity carriers is news to her.
“I had not heard that, but it seems disingenuous to negotiate a lease you plan to break,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s not working well with Trailways, and I would love to keep them here at the MTC.
“But if not, I hope a new location works well for Gene and his riders,” she added.
Negotiations for the new lease were “horrible, even ugly,” Berardi said.
Minkel agreed the negotiations with the bus companies were difficult, but she denied Berardi’s allegation that at one point the NFTA issued eviction notices to the carriers. She also noted that the state Authorities Budget Office criticized the NFTA in a 2013 audit for not charging enough to cover the cost of bus operations.
“We were subsidizing Gene’s costs for many, many years,” she said. “That had to stop.”
The new leases result in about $500,000 annual savings for the NFTA because of operational efficiencies for its Metro buses, while providing amenities for passengers, Minkel said.
The new $150,000 annual lease represents a 72 percent increase over the current rent, according to authority documents. And Berardi noted that the NFTA demanded a 10-year lease, when most leases across the country are five-year terms.
He believes the 10-year lease aimed to nix the commission’s intermodal goals for the new Exchange Street facility combining rail, intercity bus, Metro Rail and Metro Bus service, tying up the bus companies so the state would build a new station for Amtrak only.
The authority’s unsuccessful efforts to strike the intermodal concept from the planning commission’s mission statement buttresses his contention, Berardi said.
Minkel said the authority’s representative on the commission sought a “clarification.”
She also said that if the community desires a new station for intercity buses, the NFTA will abide by the decision. But the authority also wants to keep the MTC for its own Metro buses and the layover facilities it provides across Division Street.
“We have a beautiful facility that works well,” she said.
New transit facilities now attempt to bring together as many modes as possible – even pedestrians and cyclists – under one roof, said Sam Hoyt, regional president of the Empire State Development Corp. and the governor’s point man on the project, said.
“Any transportation planning expert on earth wants to integrate as many forms of transportation as possible, because it makes sense,” he said. “Greyhound and Trailways recognize that."
Berardi said a rail-only facility planned to replace Amtrak’s tiny and dilapidated station on Exchange Street would be hard to justify while serving only about 200 passengers per day. But combining the train and bus station, accommodating 1,200 to 1,400 intercity travelers each day, allow for amenities like a news stand or coffee shop.