The NFTA finally listened to the residents of Lackawanna's First Ward, who pleaded for years for more public transportation.
Starting March 4, riders will be able to get on a bus in the First Ward and take it to Southgate Plaza and the Shops in West Seneca on weekends and evenings. That gives them access to stores like Tops, K-Mart and Bon-Ton for shopping – and employment.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is consolidating bus routes serving Lackawanna and Hamburg from three routes into two. That means increasing service to Lackawanna's First Ward and maintaining frequency, time and duration of stops in Hamburg -- including McKinley Mall, according to the NFTA.
"We are doing it with two routes instead of three," said Rachel Maloney, senior transportation planner for the NFTA.
Lackawanna resident John Ingram has pressured the NFTA for years to increase service to the First Ward. Ingram organized forums at public housing facilities and participated in marches to call attention to the need for more weekend routes.
"Now the NFTA will offer more service to the First Ward with a six-month pilot program," said Ingram. "That's seven days a week so residents have access to the services they need like grocery shopping, medical care and employment opportunities."
John Pitts, director of public relations for Baker Victory Services, said more than 10 percent of their 1,000 employees -- or 130 -- depend on public transportation.
"Many are direct-care staff who work at the 150 Martin Road Campus," said Pitts.
Service on Route 42 serving Lackawanna's First Ward, Southgate Plaza and the Shops in West Seneca, which now ends on weekdays by 6 p.m., will continue to midnight, and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays. There also will be a pilot Sunday service program from about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., although the hours have not been finalized, said Helen Tederous, director of public affairs for the NFTA.
Trips from the First Ward to McKinley Mall will require a transfer from the 42 Lackawanna bus to the 16 South Park bus at the Lackawanna Victory Transit Circle.
The 36 Hamburg route will be split between 42 Lackawanna and 16 South Park. Stops along Electric Avenue in Blasdell will be eliminated as service is shifted onto South Park, a few blocks away.
"A huge portion of the 36 was a duplication of service," Maloney said. "We can serve the same geography, but replacing it with 16 instead of 36."
Buffalo Transit Riders United formed in 2016 to advocate for the needs of people who depend on public transportation.
"The NFTA is holding more public meetings and it needs to do more because a lot of the problems stem from its lack of communication," said Holly Nowak of the Coalition for Economic Justice, which advocates for the transit riders group. "Cheektowaga is in need of routes running north south; the routes that run through the area now are east west. Other areas like the Fruit Belt get older buses with inferior equipment. They're feeling underserved."
Maloney said the agency is always looking to provide efficient service, and this change in service was "community driven."
Hamburg Community Development Director Christopher Hull said he knows how important the Hamburg 36 bus is every day when he looks out his office window and sees people waiting at the bus stop on South Park Avenue. He wrote a letter to the NFTA asking it not to cut service there.
"Each and every morning up and down South Park Avenue, people are huddled together at the many bus stops, waiting to get on the No. 36 bus," he wrote. "In addition to those riders, there's a large contingent of elderly riders who utilize the No. 36 buses to go from several senior apartment complexes along South Park Avenue to the Tops store at 6150 South Park Ave. to do their grocery shopping."
He said a number of clients who visit the Community Development office at 6122 South Park Ave. can only get there by using the bus. After Immaculata Academy closed, Hull arranged to have the bus shelter in front of the former school moved in front of the Community Development office between Town Hall and Tops.