NIAGARA FALLS – A city beset by massive rodent infestations still doesn’t have enclosed garbage totes. A board that governs local public transit still doesn’t have a single voting member that relies on public transportation.
In a city as beleaguered as Niagara Falls, there is no shortage of issues that need attention, but activists narrowed the list to those two in a public meeting Sunday as they asked local politicians for help with quality-of-life problems in the community.
“I’ve seen rats running up onto porches, I’ve seen them being carried by cats in their teeth, I’ve seen them dead,” said Sammantha Hollis, of Niagara Falls.
Hollis joined church and community organization members from the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope at the Heart, Love and Soul Food Pantry on Ontario Avenue to ask local leaders for two practical solutions they said would bring sweeping improvement: enclosed garbage totes and rider representation on the NFTA board.
Municipalities across Western New York provide enclosed garbage totes as a proven means of stemming rodent populations, but Niagara Falls – which has been beset by massive rodent infestations – does not.
“Everyone else has had them for years,” said State Sen. George Maziarz. “Niagara Falls has had $150 million in casino money over the last 10 years, and what do they have to show for it?”
The city is looking for money for the totes and is negotiating with three waste collection bidders to provide one tote per household by early next year, said Niagara Falls City Council member Kristen Grandinetti.
“Bins, almost definitely, are a go,” Grandinetti said.
Activists were also calling for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to put two voting members on its board who actually rely on public transportation – one of whom represents people with disabilities.
Shana Davis, a graduate student from Sanborn, relied on buses when a traumatic brain injury left her unable to drive nine years ago.
“Public transit is a necessity for people with disabilities,” Davis said. “It’s hard enough to get up and out without route cuts and fare hikes.”
Mike Rogers, who uses a wheelchair, said he relies on public transportation “for everything” – to get to work, doctor’s appointments, grocery stores.
“If people who use public transit had input, it could fundamentally change the way decisions are made. It would make decisions more rider-centric,” Rogers said.
NFTA board members are appointed by the governor, who has already vetoed legislation to give riders a voting voice on the board. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Maziarz sponsored bills that gave a representative of the developmental disability community a seat on the board, but that seat does not have voting rights.
“It’s not just the current governor,” Maziarz said. “This is going back four governors to Pataki, who’ve said they’re very much against expanding the membership of public authorities.”