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Senator pushes for increased NFTA funding in state budget

BY: Metro Source Staff | February 05, 2014

At a public hearing on the state budget�s impact on transportation in Albany, Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, launched a decisive push for increased state support for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA). Kennedy made the case for a more fair share of state aid to be directed to the NFTA and pressed for answers related to NFTA funding concerns in the upcoming year.

The NFTA, Kennedy pointed out, receives less state aid per passenger-trip and per revenue-mile than the other major upstate transit agencies, despite being the state�s second largest transit provider and the only upstate system with light-rail service. Kennedy called it a question of �basic fairness� � echoing the recent sentiments of leaders within the NFTA. A continued lack of funding from the state could jeopardize transit services � which could mean fare hikes or route cuts � and delay or prevent capital improvements.

Kennedy urged an increase in State Transit Operating Assistance (STOA) for the NFTA, and raised the suggestion that the state should create a separate funding stream for upstate transit agencies that provide light-rail or subway services � a category that would currently only include the NFTA.

�When you take into account vehicle miles and ridership, the NFTA remains underfunded by nearly $8 million. Our mass transit system needs and deserves increased funding from the state and a more fair share of state resources. The state�s funding formulas � which perpetuate a significant regional inequity � are simply not good enough. We need a fair funding formula that truly reflects the needs of the NFTA,� said Kennedy.

�Buffalo and Western New York are in the midst of an economic transformation,� Kennedy added. �Now that our region is finally bouncing back, we can�t let our recovery be delayed by a struggling mass transit system. Leaving the NFTA to struggle while we invest in other parts of our economy could slow down our development or lead to unequal growth if areas of our community don�t have access to buses and trains to get to work or school.�

DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald remained non-committal, explaining that she had not recently explored the specifics of the State Transit Operating Assistance formulas for upstate transit agencies. However, she expressed willingness to revisit funding formulas to explore additional possibilities for the NFTA. McDonald also committed to meeting with Kennedy and other Western New York lawmakers to discuss the issue of equitable funding for the NFTA.

In responding to one of Kennedy�s questions about the NFTA being the only upstate system with light-rail service, McDonald said everything should remain on the table when it comes to ensuring transit systems have the resources they need.

�In 2011, Metro Rail saw nearly 6.5 million riders,� Kennedy said. �Not one of these light-rail users were factored into the NFTA�s transit operating assistance. These millions of riders, who are invisible to this formula, put a financial strain on the NFTA that no other upstate transit authority has to deal with.�

To demonstrate the regional equity issue, Kennedy has pointed to a comparison between the NFTA and its counterpart in Westchester County. While the NFTA has more riders and more vehicle-miles than the Westchester transit system, the NFTA is still receiving nearly $7 million dollars less than the Westchester system.

Kennedy also urged the DOT to release additional capital funding from the Dedicated Mass Transportation Trust Fund this year to ensure the NFTA has the necessary funding to undertake or complete needed capital improvements, such as their ongoing Metro Rail fleet refurbishment.

On a different matter, Kennedy asked the DOT commissioner for details on an executive order issued yesterday that calls for a state review of crude oil rail safety. In recent years, the amount of crude oil shipped by rail as skyrocketed. Following a December derailment in Cheektowaga, Kennedy urged the state to review safety protocols and disaster preparedness related to crude oil transported via rail. McDonald described the forthcoming state review of freight rail safety and explained the state�s efforts to prevent rail disasters.

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