Tonawanda News

February 14, 2012

OUR VIEW: On planes, trains and automobiles

The Tonawanda News

— — The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority would be well served by taking a lesson from the late comedian John Candy and returning its focus to planes, trains and automobiles (buses, specifically) when evaluating a potential rate increase and bus route cuts to be announced later this week.

As the cash-strapped entity looks to increase revenue to stave off route cuts that would make it more difficult for thousands of Western New Yorkers to get to their jobs, we have a few suggestions.

First, the planes: The NFTA has done a commendable job bringing the Niagara Falls airport back to relevance with discounted passenger carriers to Florida and other vacation destinations. More still needs to be done. The Falls airport should be a bustling freight hub thanks to its proximity to international border crossings. Increasing traffic at the airport would boost the NFTA’s bottom line and the regional economy at the same time. Discount carriers offer the general public a reason to fly out of Niagara Falls, but as we’ve seen these can be fly-by-night operations that shut down with little notice. Air cargo operations would be a more stable way to justify the airport’s expense and should be the primary focus of the NFTA’s marketing of the facility.

Second, the trains: Many a joke has been made about the NFTA’s “subway to nowhere” but that largely isn’t fair. It only goes nowhere if you consider the state’s largest public university, an 18,000-seat arena and what will hopefully soon be a commercial and tourist destination in the Erie Canal Harbor insignificant. The NFTA should aggressively market the subway as a convenient mode of transportation for more than just 41 Sabres home games each year.

Here’s an idea: Model the trains after Rochester’s public transportation system, which has made deals with multiple entities to provide contracted transportation services. A partnership between UB and the NFTA would be just one way to increase ridership and stabilize the bottom line. The student body at UB might be more inclined to buy a rail pass if it meant free trips to Buffalo’s nightlife scene. Start a pilot program offering reduced rates to UB students with the promise that the rail line will run until the bars close and see how many students would take the trip. If it proves popular, explore ways to expand it and perhaps include it in the cost of student tuition at the school and the NFTA would have successfully tapped into thousands of new potential customers.

And finally, the automobiles: The NFTA has heard the public’s message loud and clear: Don’t cut bus routes. Riders would rather accept a small fare increase than see the routes they use daily cease to exist.

To be sure, a review of route usage is smart and efficient. The NFTA shouldn’t be shy about cutting routes with few regular riders, but that should only be done to increase bus routes in more heavily trafficked areas.

As the NFTA looks for ways to raise revenue to avoid such cuts, we would encourage them to look at a substantial holding, its downtown waterfront property, for a one-time cash infusion. NFTA leaders have long promised to sell the land for redevelopment but it hasn’t happened. When looking for ways to raise cash, now would seem to be the perfect time for such a deal.