Western New Yorkers generally understand that Metro will take them where they want to go.

What is still unclear to them, according to research funded by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, is how to use local public transportation services to get them where they need to be on a regular basis.

Members of the NFTA's Board of Commissioners on Thursday received an overview of the findings from research conducted by Insight Associates, a private firm that asked roughly 200 residents from Buffalo and Amherst for their opinions on Metro bus and rail services.

The results, according to the NFTA's Marketing Manager Jim Lynch, suggest that the agency has done a good job of telling the community about what it does, but must provide more specific information about how citizens can use the services it has to offer.

"Our challenge now is telling them how to ride and where to go," Lynch said.

In an effort to gauge local interest in public transportation, Insight Associates surveyed and conducted focus groups with people who were not regular users of NFTA services.

The company's found that, in general, people recognized the NFTA as the region's transportation service provider and were generally familiar with the agency's marketing efforts, including its television commercials and "take you where you want to go" slogan. According to the survey results, people also generally understood the economic and environmental benefits of public transportation and, not surprisingly, cited the potential for saving money on gas as the main reason why they would consider making the switch from car to bus.

The majority of those surveyed were not yet ready, however, to commit to such a move. Instead, they still wanted to continue using their cars, while admitting to experimenting more with cost-saving measures, such as car pooling and trip reduction.

Lynch noted that some attitudes may have already changed in the months since the survey was conducted as gasoline had eclipsed the $3-per-gallon mark at the time but had not yet crept into the $4-per-gallon territory consumers now facing consumers.

"I think with gas much higher than it was when we did this, this information is more relevant to us," Lynch said.

Survey participants expressed two main concerns about the NFTA's services, including a perceived lack of security on Metro buses and on the rail system in downtown Buffalo and a general lack of understanding about where to find services and how to use them.

Few people, for example, knew that the agency's park-and-ride program, which allows drivers to cut gas costs by parking in one spot and taking either a bus or the rail system to their destination, had 14 locations in Western New York. The majority of those surveyed could only identify the agency’s most popular park-and-ride site, the Metro rail lot at the University at Buffalo's south campus.

NFTA officials plan to use the research findings to develop a more informative advertising campaign for the coming year. The agency will work on new television, radio and print promotions for launch in the fall, Lynch said.

Commissioners offered a few ideas of their own, suggesting that, perhaps, the agency should consider a "free ride day" or a promotional week or two in which non-riders would be invited to, for example, take a complimentary ride to work on a bus. It was also suggested that the agency consider equipping, if possible, one promotional bus with televisions, wi-fi connections and other amenities that are being considered as ways to make public transportation more attractive to the general public.

“That’s the next generation, maybe, of where we should be,” said NFTA Commissioner Henry Sloma.

In other matters:

n received a request from NFTA Commissioner Sloma to reach out to the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. to discuss the possibility of establishing a free trolley system between tourist attractions in Niagara Falls and Lewiston. Sloma said the proposal, which has been pushed by Niagara County Legislator John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, would be similar in operation to the NFTA's trolley service in the downtown area and along Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls.

n board members announced the resignation of Commissioner Cesar Cabrera who was forced to step down from his post due his appointment by Gov. David Paterson as the new regional director for the state's Department of Labor.

Contact reporter Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250

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