LOCKPORT - A sparsely attended public meeting Tuesday saw advocates for Lockport's poor and disabled try to obtain continued funding for a little-used bus route.
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority announced last week it will shut down Bus 201, a nine-times-a-day circulator route in the City and Town of Lockport, in December - unless Niagara County comes up with funding.
During a fiscal crisis earlier this year that saw service cutbacks, the NFTA had planned to stop the Metrolink route in May, but the agency decided to keep it rolling after protests from activists led by the faith-based Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH.
However, average daily ridership has moved from 39 passengers in the first quarter of the year to 43 now, and the fare box brings in 6 percent of the daily cost of operating the service, NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer said last week.
NFTA Commissioner Henry M. Sloma, who attended Tuesday's meeting in the Dale Association along with State Sen. George D. Maziarz, told the audience of about a dozen that the authority is currently being audited.
"One of the things said to our staff was, 'We're surprised you didn't cut more routes,' " Sloma said.
In February, Sloma urged the County Legislature to come up with $1 million for the NFTA in addition to the share of the mortgage recording tax, which brings the authority about $900,000 a year.
County leaders haven't responded to that request, although Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, told Karen Carroll of NOAH Tuesday that he would be glad to meet with her about that.
Ross, who did not attend the meeting, said the county has its own budgetary problems, with declining revenue, significant state-mandated increases in employee pension contributions and the need to comply with the 2 percent property tax cap.
Sloma acknowledged, "This is the wrong time for this to come up for the county."
"The heart of the matter is funding," Carroll said. "To date, the Legislature has been underfunding transportation in Niagara County. . All the routes in Niagara County are in jeopardy."
The county is spending about $166,000 this year on its own bus service. The Rural Transportation Service offers rides from outlying areas of the county to the county's cities and to Niagara County Community College.
Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he was under the impression that the county and the NFTA were going to discuss linking up the two services to preserve "at least an acceptable level of service" in Lockport.
Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino, whose department operates the rural bus service, said in a telephone interview that the county's schedule doesn't link up well with the NFTA's.
Bus 201 serves public housing and mobile home parks, connecting them with shopping areas in Lockport.