Riding the bus and Metro Rail should be a routine, nonthreatening experience. This is where the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority intends to be clear. The authority is focusing on a group of young riders – 10,000 of them – who, due to school bus driver shortages and other issues, ride the buses and trains daily during the school year.
Kids will be kids. They can be rowdy and loud. This age-appropriate behavior can be interpreted in many ways, sometimes resulting in misunderstandings – between each other or the general public. Other times, students’ actions cross the line into disruption.
In October, The News wrote about problems in the previous school year involving boisterous students around rail stations and on buses, including instances in which high school students coordinated large fights in real time on social media. Students could look up on their phones where a fight was going to take place, including such locations as a particular station or a specific school. Sometimes hundreds of students would show up, many just to watch the fight.
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The problem, according to NFTA officials, stemmed from 10th- through 12th-graders taking advantage of their all-access Metro bus and rail passes. The passes were temporarily restricted until the summer, when the transportation authority and Buffalo Public Schools decided to return to routed bus passes. New NFTA Transit Police Chief Brian Patterson has undertaken the task of curtailing large public altercations as part of a coordinated safety plan.
A new detail of four transit officers called the Transit School Resource Unit should allay concerns by the public. The officers roam the Metro Rail system, in addition to key bus stops when school dismisses each day.
Patterson intends to “tone down” the high energy afternoons to make other riders feel more comfortable. The plan already seems to be working, with several riders telling The News that they appreciate the unit’s presence and that it makes a difference in how they feel using public transit.
The new police unit is similar to efforts stretching back to the department’s 1984 debut. It is now the centerpiece of a new initiative called Ride Nice, which is about to be unveiled by the NFTA. James Morrell, the NFTA’s director of public transit, said the initiative stems from new efforts to regain commuters who left during the pandemic and occasional riders attending downtown events.
The effort receives an assist from the Peacemakers, adults who act as intermediaries on the streets and where young people gather. Because they live in the same neighborhoods, members of the group know many of the kids.
Other changes are also in the works. They should all be coordinated with the school district with a goal of keeping the peace, not detaining students. It is a job for cops with the patience and desire to work with youth.
Ticket inspectors’ roles will soon change due to the Metro’s new turnstile fare collection system. They will now act as “transit ambassadors” to assist riders and report bad behavior to police. All efforts will combine with cameras on trains and in stations that are constantly monitored.
No one should ever feel hesitant to ride the bus or Metro Rail. The Ride Nice initiative should go a long way to making all riders and drivers feel comfortable.
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