Officials say the Discover Niagara Shuttle has performed well in its first two years of operation and supporters of the people mover are expecting it to continue to deliver positive results for the local tourism economy in the future.
Local, state and federal officials gathered in Niagara Falls on Thursday to discuss plans for the shuttle, which has been moving passengers along a 14-mile "Falls to Fort" route under a two-year pilot program since 2016.
Thanks to additional funding from a recently approved change in the allocation of bed tax, officials are now describing the shuttle program as "permanent" and announced that it will run for an extended period this year through Oct. 15.
Longer terms plans call for the shuttle — which currently offers free "hop-on/hop-off" service along 14 stops between Niagara Falls and Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown — to be extended to 17 destinations, with a route extending to destinations in Lockport anticipated to begin next year.
In June, the New York State Assembly and Senate approved legislation dedicating a portion of the bed tax, collected from visitors to the region through hotel stays, to permanently support the shuttle service.
“Through vision, partnership and collaboration, the Discover Niagara Shuttle is now a seamless part of the visitor experience in Niagara Falls and a vital component of our region's tourism infrastructure," said Sara Capen, executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.
As for 2019, officials said an estimated 28,758 riders have boarded the shuttle so far this year, representing an increase of more than 5,000 passengers from 2016 when the shuttle accommodated 23,813 riders.
Officials noted that the shuttle's progress has happened as steps are being taken to reshape the infrastructure and appeal of key tourism areas, including those in the City of Niagara Falls.
One of the major changes involves the removal of the northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway, a $40 million project that will result in the replacement of an underutilized portion of the elevated highway with a reconstructed Whirlpool Street, open space, scenic overlooks and recreational trails that will reconnect Niagara Falls neighborhoods with the waterfront.
Officials also noted that the The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has invested more than $70 million, funded in large part through the 2007 federal New York Power Authority relicensing agreement, on upgrades at Niagara Falls State Park.
In addition, they noted that in recent years the city celebrated the grand opening of the Niagara Falls Amtrak station as well as The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. The city has also welcomed what officials described as $250 million in investment in roughly 1,000 new hotel rooms and refurbished or newly built hotel space.
The shuttle operates within the boundaries of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, which was designated by an act of Congress in 2008, and is a partnership with the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Its mission is to enhance public appreciation for the communities, significant historic and natural resources, and landscapes of the Niagara region.
Shuttle partners include the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, the New York Power Authority, Destination Niagara USA, City of Niagara Falls, Niagara University, Niagara Falls USA Development Corp., State Parks, Niagara County, Town of Lewiston and Village of Lewiston.
“The Discover Niagara Shuttle continues to serve both as a catalyst and compliment to the many exciting developments that have taken place since its launch in 2016 and the many more still to come," said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.