NFTA responds to wheelchair rider’s long wait in the cold

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – BJ Stasio takes a para transit van home from his state job every day, from the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca, but on March 9, the shuttle was more than an hour late, on one of the coldest days of the year, “I expected to be out of here by 5:00, but it ended up being 6:10 when I left.”

Fortunately BJ did most of his waiting in an office–Assemblyman Michael Kearns’ chief of staff allowed the Buffalo rider to wait in Kearns’s District office–but Kearns and other local leaders want to know why Stacio couldn’t have been notified of the delay?

“If my assistants are leaving at 4:30, BJ would have been outside in the cold,” Kearns said. “He should not have to rely on our office.”

So what happened? The PAL van is supplied by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and spokesman Doug Hartmayer said, there simply was not a PAL van available to pick up Stasio at the time he needed it on March 9, and the next van to leave the Frontier Station on Military Road was 54 minutes late.

“When you leave your destination, the Frontier Station, 54 minutes late, there is no way you are going to make up that time, especially when you have customers ahead of you, and we do not want our operators speeding, or putting anybody’s life in jeopardy, causing an accident.”

The NFTA apologized to Stasio, but Todd Vaarwerk, of the Independent Living Center and a leading advocate for people with disabilities, asked why the NFTA’s new automated reservation system, called IVR, couldn’t have given BJ a heads up?

“If they knew that was trouble, why didn’t the new IVR–which this ride was scheduled on–notify somebody that there was going to be a wait for a ride?”

Hartmayer said they are working on improving communications with passengers through the IVR system, which has been used to alert riders wirelessly when a bus or van is 10 minutes away.

Demand for para transit service is up substantially, and Hartmayer said the NFTA is trying to catch up with the growing demand, “We will be receiving 10 brand new PAL vans on April 1–we will have them on property. It will take a few weeks, or so, to have them retrofitted, and then they will be on the street, in addition to the 62 PAL vans that we have in service.”

Kearns is trying to get more state money for the NFTA, and has set a meeting this Friday, with NFTA officials, to discuss how passenger service can be improved.

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