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Editorial: Funding creativity needed at NFTA

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority must maximize revenue, whether it means raising the fare for passengers taking rail or figuring out some other means of income such as charging for parking at stations or, somehow, figuring out how to end the free-fare zone without building costly infrastructure.

State legislators who represent this area are attempting to lobby Albany leaders, but face the challenge of downstate’s pressing – and expensive – transportation needs. Trains breaking down or not running on time in New York City cause a calamitous situation. The same scenario in Buffalo is burdensome but not paralyzing.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan said the state budget, due by April 1, presents an opportunity for Buffalo. It will be a tough lift for Ryan’s proposed five-year, $100 million capital plan, but the assemblyman remains optimistic. He is joined by local Democratic Assembly colleagues Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Robin L. Schimminger and Monica P. Wallace in trying to convince Speaker Carl E. Heastie. It's worth pursuing, but it can't be the only solution.

Buffalo used to have a handle on public transportation. Like many other cities it once had street cars to service riders, many of them commuters. Times have changed.

Street cars around here disappeared. In the mid-1980s local leaders built a Metro Rail system that stretches 6.4 miles from downtown northward. Workers ride the rail and so do students and hockey fans. The $2 one-way adult ticket is a bargain ($5 an all-day pass, and reduced fares for children, the disabled and seniors).

It might be time to consider raising fares or to figure out how to charge those who park or to take another look at how the free-fare zone could end without building expensive infrastructure. The system’s leaders need to look for other new sources of revenue, as well.

One creative idea that has yet to take hold is charging for naming rights. The idea was put forth by NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel a couple of years ago and is still worth pursuing.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority got $4 million for its subway station at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will collect $17 million over 25 years from Cleveland hospitals and Cleveland State University.

Current sources of revenue here include the “grab-and-go” retail shops at the Allen/Medical Campus Station and Metropolitan Transportation Center. There are future possibilities, the biggest hope resting on developing the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad terminal at the foot of Main Street, perhaps into a multimodal facility with a new Metro Rail stop and possibly new retail businesses and housing.

The bottom line is that transit officials must maximize revenue while adopting creative solutions. Albany plays an important role in finding a way forward, but not the only one.

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