Route 201 survives — for now

LOCKPORT — The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority will reconsider the fate of Lockport bus Route 201, a spokesman confirmed Monday.

The city-town “circulator” bus service will not be discontinued May 13 as was previously announced, C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA director of public affairs, said.

Instead, the transportation authority will analyze the route again and explore whether the Route 44 bus, between Lockport, Amherst and Buffalo, can be expanded to accommodate Route 201 riders.

The authority also will explore a working arrangement with Rural Niagara Transportation, a Niagara County-managed bus service that has some stops in common with Route 201.

“We’re going to take a step back ... and give (Lockport circulator service) another complete look,” Hartmayer said. “We’re going to look at all options, including working with other transit providers.”

Route 201, which loops around greater Lockport nine time a day on weekdays, will continue unaltered while NFTA studies the options, he said. There is no time frame for completing the study, he added.

News of a temporary reprieve for the 201 came the same day a coalition of local human service providers held a meeting at the Dale Association to solicit people’s views on the importance of the route.

The coalition, forged by agencies including the Dale, St. John’s Outreach Center, Brothers Keeper Outreach, First AME Church, Lockport CARES, Lockport Housing Authority, Urban Park Towers, Buffalo First! and the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, is protesting discontinuation of Route 201 on the basis NFTA didn’t get ample input from riders before deciding to cut it. NFTA’s public hearings were held in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

At the coalition meeting, 10 riders offered testimonials to the importance of Route 201 in their daily lives.

Anecdotally, it seems, 201 riders are low-income residents who have no other affordable means of getting to medical appointments, shopping centers and/or work.

Taxi service from an apartment complex downtown, or in the city’s north end, to a doctor’s office on Davison Road, or a grocery or department store on South Transit Road, might cost anywhere from $7 to $13, according to the riders.

Michael Boron, director of St. John’s Outreach Center and food pantry, spoke of the city being a “food desert,” a place where, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a high concentration of very-low income households, many without vehicles or easy access to a supermarket. Without affordable transit, many households end up doing their “grocery” shopping at convenience and drug stores, where choices are fewer and prices are higher.

The Save Route 201 coalition’s purpose is to “try to find workable solutions for people who are affected” by a lack of affordable transit options, Boron said.

Route 201 travels roughly between Locust and Main streets in the city and Transit and Robinson roads in the town, where the Woodlands mobile home park is located. It loops around the northwest and southeast quadrants of the city, hitting areas from Corinthia and Michigan streets to Lincoln Avenue/Davison Road/East Avenue. Stops along the route include the Dale Association, Tops/Walmart plaza, Professional Parkway and Eastern Niagara Hospital.

NFTA, which operates metro bus service in Erie and Niagara counties, targeted dozens of less-frequented routes for closure late last year while trying to close up a roughly $7 million operating deficit. All bus routes in greater Lockport were on the tentative cut list. After public hearings, and the transfer of about $5.2 million in state aid to NFTA, most targeted routes were “rescued” including the Lockport 44 and 64, which head to/from Amherst and Buffalo respectively.

Route 201 stayed on the closure list because of low ridership/high operating cost, according to Hartmayer. “Sampling” of ridership during the first three months of 2012 showed an average of 39 passengers per day, or fewer than five passengers per trip around Lockport, he said. Operating the bus costs $872 — or $22.35 per passenger — per day, he said.

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, got the privilege of announcing NFTA’s new look at the 201 to residents who attended the coalition meeting. The authority “let” him make the announcement, he said.

City and town leaders also attended the meeting and expressed their support for efforts to either save 201 or identify an alternative to it.

“Not everything can be put into dollars and cents,” Town Supervisor Marc Smith said. “This is a quality of life issue.”

Maziarz said he facilitate a meeting of NFTA and Rural Niagara Transportation executives to examine how one or the other agency can offer a viable Lockport circulator service.

RNT, a federally funded public transportation service managed by the Niagara County Department of Social Services, has two bus routes that run through parts of Lockport four times a day: The Lockport/Middleport bus between Niagara County Community College and the village of Middleport; and the Wilson/Olcott/Lockport bus between NCCC and Dysinger Road.

RNT service is open to the public at large, according to transportation coordinator Barbara Hill; for a schedule and more information, call 285-9357.

According to Save 201 coalition organizer Karen Carroll, of NOAH, NFTA has already pledged to keep paratransit service intact for at least one year after fixed bus routes are discontinued. Paratransit routes, for handicapped riders, mirror fixed routes.

Separate of the coalition meeting, state Senate candidate Amy Witryol, D-Lewiston, called on Maziarz and the rest of the Senate to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of a new NFTA chairman, Howard Zemsky. The authority presently isn’t managing transportation assets and programs too well, she said, pointing to its running of Niagara Falls International Airport in the red over a period of years.

“We can’t assume (threatened cessation of Route 201) is an isolated problem ... when NFTA is running big structural deficits,” Witryol said. “Volunteers in Lockport are trying to solve a problem while the Senate fights a change in NFTA leadership.”

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