So it should come as no surprise that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s latest Metro Bus and Rail rate increase went through with little discussion or public comment. Since the last increase in 1995, the NFTA has suffered through Buffalo’s decline with less state, county, and city aid while serving an estimated 37,000 Metro Bus and 25,000 Metro Rail riders daily, according to the authority’s own reports and the Citizens Regional Transit Corporation. Surely, the fare increase sounds reasonable when put into the context.

The NFTA isn’t just Metro Bus and Rail; it owns large tracts of waterfront property in addition to operating two airports, and a marina. And it maintains its own police force. Both the Niagara Falls and Buffalo International Airports have been under severe financial strain since long before the World Trade Center attacks. This situation became acute last year and led to the NFTA proposing a fare increase. In press releases and on the NFTA pressroom web page, the NFTA tied that request, which was ultimately avoided by last minute state aid, directly to losses due to the terrorist attacks. The 76-officer Transit Police force has recently surfaced as yet another area of financial liability for the NFTA. Officers can earn a maximum annual salary of $40,000, according to NFTA Police Benevolent Association head David Zarbo. According to The Buffalo News reports, the NFTA is alarmed that New York State might pass a binding arbitration bill for transit police across the state that will allow these officers to forgo working second jobs and applying for public assistance to make ends meet.

And as for the waterfront, well, it would appear that the marina’s rates don’t prohibit the region’s more affluent from enjoying the waterfront. At the same time, the authority waits for someone else to foot the waterfront development bill before it lets go of the land it owns off of Furhmann Boulevard.

All of which brings us back to Metro service itself. Riders, activists, and even a few area politicians have anecdotally characterized the system as a model of inefficiency. From buses that never show up, can’t seem to stay on schedule, and appear to only carry schedules for lines that don’t connect to the complete Metro map conveniently placed behind the South Campus Station kiosk and the ever empty bus schedule racks, the NFTA has done little to manage the details that make public transportation desirable. Then there’s the much-derided Rapid Transit. Advocates have pled for expansion for years, but anyone who has paid attention knows that the line will never reach Amherst, let alone those burghs of safety and civility in the outer ring of suburbs. Area politicians have been jumping at the opportunity to support plans to return traffic to Main Street as a panacea for downtown’s woes. This would guarantee that the current transit defunding program will continue, even accelerate, into the foreseeable future.

The plan is as apparent as the plainly visible Metro service gaps on the aforementioned South Campus map. Apparently, the NFTA has determined that non-driving city residents have no need to travel into Clarence and little reason to travel any further south than West Seneca. The limited suburban service promises to promote auto traffic and to further erode Metro ridership.

With half hour waiting times and hour plus rides, trips outside of the first ring suburbs hearken back to bygone times when going to the general store was an all-day event. Throw in the extra cash for transfers and crossing zones, and it’s surprising that anyone bothers with the trek at all. Then again, since most jobs and stores have fled Buffalo, many city residents are left with little choice.

The amazing part is that few riders express discontent with the big picture. Instead, it’s the little issues that matter most to riders. On a recent rainy afternoon Alt Press round trip from Allentown to Amherst and back via the east side, several regular Metro riders voiced their concerns about the service that they receive in exchange for the recently raised bus and rail fares.

“They don’t clean the buses out good enough,” said Kordel, a city resident and regular rider of the 30C (Kenmore Avenue) bus line. Kordel said that the morning buses normally aren’t that dirty, but that, by the time he heads home from work, the buses are litter strewn.

“There’s wrappers under the seats, and the buses smell like urine a lot of the time,” he said. Pointing under the seat directly directly in front of him, Kordel said, “There’s a blunt under there. I see that a lot.”

Kordell takes three buses to travel between work in the Delaware and Kenmore avenues area and his home near Eggert Road. Kordell said that, as long as the buses are running on schedule, the trek takes about an hour in the morning and a little longer in the evening. But “if you miss one, you’ve got to wait twenty or thirty minutes for the next one.”

All things considered, though, Kordell said that he thinks that the service is adequate. He accepts the fare increase as unfortunate but necessary due to what he’s read and heard in the local news media.

“I wish it wouldn’t have changed,” said Kordell. “With the economy in Buffalo now, I guess we just have to deal with it. I just hope they don’t raise it again.” Other riders had a similar outlook, citing long waiting times and absent buses as annoyances that they’ve learned to deal with. But they accept the fare hike as inevitable as long as service doesn’t deteriorate further.

Thirty-nine year old Paris is developmentally disabled and rides the 25 Delaware route regularly between his home near Kenmore Avenue and downtown Buffalo. He said that, although the bus usually runs every 15 minutes, he has had to wait 40 or 45 minutes for a bus on a number of occasions. For Paris, the fare increase is a little steep but still affordable because Metro offers reduced-fare Flash-a-Passes to disabled people.

Susan, a Bryant Street resident who works in the Delaware-Kenmore area, said that Metro service is generally satisfactory and that the fare increase doesn’t bother her too much. What she would like to see fixed is the timing of connecting bus routes.

“The buses aren’t timed correctly,” she said. “I usually have to catch the later, second connecting bus. It’s good service but needs some fixing, especially with timing the connecting buses.”

For some, such as Jason, a teen who rides the 19 Bailey bus to the Clinton/Bailey area for work almost every day, the bus may provide good service but the fare increase is less than acceptable

“It doesn’t make too much sense to someone like me who takes it every day. The cost just adds up,” said Jason, adding that he pays per ride rather than purchase a Flash-a-Pass. Jason said he is happy with the service, although he often times has to wait more than thirty minutes for his bus. Waiting times of 15 to 30 minutes may be acceptable to riders on the routes that serve the more prosperous parts of the city, but, for those who are more dependent on bus service, it isn’t uncommon to wait much longer.

Jay Witherspoon had been waiting about 50 minutes outside a store on Genesee, a few blocks from Bailey, for the inbound 24 Genesee Street bus to take him to his night job at the Rath building. He said that this was not uncommon. “I’ve seen three buses going the other way,” Witherspoon said. “The morning service is alright but the evenings are a lot slower. I’m late for work right now.” Witherspoon said that fares should be lowered, and he offered advice to Metro administrators attempting to increase ridership. “Get some younger guys driving the Genesee route; those older guys drive too slow.”

All these seemingly minor complaints point to larger problems that need to be addressed. If Metro riders are willing to acquiesce to shouldering the NFTA’s financial burden, shouldn’t they at least get something in return? NFTA administrators have largely ignored the small picture while never discussing the bigger picture. Infrequent service in and between the regions’ poorest and wealthiest areas suggest, at the very least, that some decision makers want to keep these two groups as far apart as possible. Jobs? Parks? Stores? Guess the poor don’t really want those things. If they did, they’d buy a car. Right? The NFTA, White Flight, and Warehousing Buffalo’s Poor

Editorialized Reporting By Brendan Coyne

To most of us, twenty-five cents doesn’t seem like much money anymore. We throw quarters in parking meters and newspaper boxes every day, and we might even toss one or two to the inevitable downtown panhandler with little or no thought given to the steady devaluation of the change in our pockets. What once promised admission to the fabled Saturday matinee now isn’t even enough for a candy bar at the concession stand.