So, the federal government has launched a special review of Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority finances. Rather than dreading a visit from the feds, agency officials are looking forward to it.
The NFTA has been expressing concern for years about its “continuing economic challenges.” Those challenges are due in part to state funding formulas that are unequal and outdated.
NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel sounded relieved about the review as she added her concern that the authority will continue to financially founder without major changes in state funding.
The funding formula treats this area like a red-headed stepchild compared to far smaller transit agencies in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. And that doesn’t begin to compare to New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which received a 7.2 percent funding increase last year. Westchester County’s bus system had the good fortune to have its operating assistance increase by 9 percent.
The NFTA got zero.
The funding inequity hurts NFTA operations, but also has a compounding effect. The Federal Transit Administration study is expected to be completed in July, but already the feds are echoing long-standing local concerns when they warn that continuing economic challenges facing the NFTA may imperil the authority’s ability to match FTA program funds. Those matching funds would go to maintain and operate federally funded facilities and equipment and cover cost overruns on current projects and operating deficits.
The NFTA serves more square miles in a larger population base, has more passengers and logs more revenue miles than any other upstate transit agency.
Yet the NFTA last year received $1.56 in state aid per trip and $3.34 per revenue mile, while Rochester received $1.77 in state aid per trip and $4.50 per revenue mile, Albany received $2.11 and $3.51 and Syracuse received $2.20 and $5.76.
The NFTA is traveling more revenue miles and carrying more passengers. There is an obvious imbalance in how the funding is distributed, and the aid formula clearly needs to be revised.
The feds are raising the alarm because they fear the NFTA will lose out on badly needed federal funds. If the cash-short NFTA can’t fund its 10 percent share of projects, the agency will lose the much-bigger federal share.
This is nothing new to officials here, which is why they’re pleased the issue is being examined and are looking forward to the full report. Just the verification of how badly the NFTA is being shortchanged and how it could jeopardize the NFTA’s ability to fund its portion of projects going forward will be a step toward erasing the inequity.