By Mark Scheer
NIAGARA FALLS — For Mark Meloon, it’s not just business, it’s personal.
The Niagara Falls resident uses the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Metro Bus system to travel to and from classes at Niagara County Community College and, on the weekend’s, his brother’s house in Lockport.
Meloon is one of the hundreds of riders that would be impacted by proposed fare hikes and cuts in service this year. The Niagara Street resident joined a group of fellow residents and community organizers at the NFTA headquarters in downtown Buffalo to voice his support for doing what must be done to keep all the buses rolling.
“Cutting back on these routes will effect my schedule,” he said. “Hopefully, they will be able to not cut the routes and come up with funding someplace else.”
That’s exactly what visiting members of the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH, and the citizens-group Voice Buffalo are hoping to help the NFTA make happen.
Members met privately with NFTA Commissioner Henry Sloma and a couple of other commissioners following Monday’s NFTA board meeting.
Their message: Help us help you free up state funds to support transportation services in Niagara and Erie counties.
“I think it’s up to us to keep the pressure on the leaders so they don't forget that these are people’s lives that we are dealing with,” said NOAH member Pete Hubbard following the meeting with NFTA officials. “We need to partner with them to figure out how we can exercise our joint muscle to leverage the political support we need to get that money.”
The NFTA has been working with area state lawmakers in an effort to secure additional transportation funding it believes it is owed. The effort comes as the agency is considering a plan that involves a combination of fare hikes and route cuts. NFTA officials are hoping the proposal will allow them to close a multi-million dollar budget gap for fiscal year 2012.
Hubbard said NOAH and Voice members tried to press the point that the hikes and cuts impact regular people, including the disabled and those attempting to get to and from work and school.
Hubbard said both groups have organized a letter-writing campaign aimed at encouraging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials to release additional funds for the NFTA. He said they asked NFTA officials to help by alerting Metro Bus and rail riders to the campaign by displaying messages and distributing fliers explaining how they more people can get involved.
“We challenged them to partner with us to make those changes,” Hubbard said. “They understand the issue. I really honestly believe that. They understand that these cuts mean the difference in people’s lives and I think they are struggling with how do they deal with that.”