When Kimberley A. Minkel was appointed executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority nearly two years ago, the agency was facing numerous challenges. Minkel sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about a number of transit issues. Here is a summary of some points in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full six-minute interview at www.buffalonews.com/video.
Meyer: It was just under a year ago when then-acting [NFTA Board] Chairman [Henry M.] Sloma talked about how the public transit system had “grown and grown.” He said it’s really important to align the public transit system with the financial structure. Where are you on that mission?
Minkel: We made a number of changes earlier this year. We went out with a fare increase, and we did cut some service. We cut some of the routes that were less productive. In total, the cuts to our system were much less than they would have been had we not done a fare increase. We see our mission as providing transportation to the community. There was a Brookings study that had been released late this summer that actually ranks the system 11th in the nation for connecting people to jobs. We provide 87 percent coverage to the workplace. In other words, we’re getting people to work, and that’s something we’re very proud of.
Meyer: Given the financial realities, including state funding – we all know the problems in Albany, and we all know the NFTA relies on state funding in many respects – is it realistic to think that this coverage is going to be as expansive in the future?
Minkel: A lot depends on the state of the economy. You’re right. Only 25 percent of the fares that we collect pay for the service. We rely on outside assistance – federal, state, local assistance. So the service we provide is really going to be contingent upon that assistance we receive into the future. We’ll continue to monitor and try to right-size and adjust service to where people are living. With the advent of urban sprawl, it makes it a constant challenge for the NFTA.
Meyer: The NFTA is still a major landlord on the waterfront – nearly 400 acres in the outer harbor. There are two proposals to transfer that land. A delay occurred. Congressman [Brian] Higgins was critical of that delay. When will a decision be made on transferring that land?
Minkel: We’re asking for proposals at the end of December. We have a process that we have to follow under the public authorities law ... We’ll review those [proposals] and make a decision. Sometime in January or February, we’ll bring it to the board.
Meyer: The city and the Erie Canal Harbor [Development Corp.] are interested ... You’re looking for more details from those entities.
Minkel: Correct. It’s always been our decision to maintain public access. We’re interested in the public process going forward – how the two agencies would engage the public for the future use of that site.