By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Community organizers participated in National Voter Registration Day by riding buses and engaging public transit riders.
Members of the the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, the Lockport 201 Coalition and VOICE-Buffalo boarded buses throughout Niagara and Erie counties to talk with the people who depend on public transit and to help them register to vote.
The organizations hoped to raise awareness of looming service cuts and to recognize the over 94,000 Western New Yorkers who use public transit every day, according to a joint press release from the organizations.
T.J. Colangelo, the chair of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope's Transportation Task Force, said that while route cuts are an important topic organizers will be discussing a number of issues with transit riders.
"It's more about public transportation in general," Colangelo said. "Today is going to be an education session."
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority sent a letter to the Niagara County Legislature in February saying that if the county did not pay a substantial amount of the nearly $1 million operating deficit for the county the authority would be forced to cut services.
William Ross, the chair of the Niagara County Legislature, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Colangelo said that his organization wants the Niagara County Legislature to contribute the additional $800,000 to $1 million that the NFTA says it needs to keep all routes operating in the county.
"Niagara County is not contributing what they need to be for public transportation," Colangelo said. "Routes in Niagara County are in jeopardy."
Colangelo said that the organizations are not endorsing any specific candidates or concentrating on a specific race in today's effort, but that he hopes that transit users will consider the possible route cuts and other transit issues when they go to the polls.
"We're out there promoting people's fundamental right to vote," Colangelo said.
The organizations have met with NFTA officials and elected officials in recent months to discuss the route cuts. The groups have expressed particular concern with the pending elimination of route 201 in Lockport, the only bus route in the city.
Route 201 was set to be shut down in May, but it has continued to operate in response to public outcry and requests from local officials.
“We cannot continue to stand idly by while threats are made by the NFTA to reduce and cut off services that enable thousands of residents to get to the doctors, grocery stores and family visits. This is just not about the livelihood of transit riders in Lockport, this is about the livelihood of transit riders throughout Western New York,” Karen Carroll, a member of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope and the Lockport 201 Coalition, said in the press release.
Doug Hartmayer, a spokesman for the NFTA, said that the county legislature and the authority have not resolved the gap in funding.
Route 201, which runs by public housing in the city and is depended upon by the riders who use it regularly, has a historically low ridership with an average of 43 passengers each weekday. It costs the NFTA approximately $1,200 a day to keep the route running.
"There is a funding discrepancy between the services provided and the funding received," Hartmayer said.
The organizations held a demonstration in the lobby of the NFTA offices last month seeking a meeting with the authority's executive director Kimberly Minkel to discuss possible service cuts throughout the region.
Hartmayer says that the authority has kept dialogue with the groups' leadership open in recent months.
"We've met with them at least six different times," Hartmayer said. "We had a representative at their meeting last week."