NFTA asks, where have all the riders gone?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials are mulling over ridership figures, going back as far as 1991, which show a steady slip in passenger traffic, and they are trying to figure out why they are losing passengers.

The numbers could be described as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, with the bad being a slight decline overall in 27 years. The ugly, ridership on the Metro Rail plummeting by 42%, but the good news is paratransit passengers surpassed the 200,000 mark for the first time ever.

NFTA officials point to a shrinking population, the loss of jobs over the years in the region, and the migration of many employers from the city to the suburbs where public transportation is not as accessible.

For instance, until HSBC abandoned the former HSBC Center downtown, two-thousand workers had light rail service right at their front door.

Spokesperson Helen Tederous described the NFTA’s ridership issues as a reflection of a national trend, especially when it comes to gas prices, which usually guide public transportation ridership—prices up, ridership up. When gas prices go down, commuters drive their cars, and drive down ridership.

“Gas prices are down significantly. The economy is doing wonderfully. Also college enrollment is down, and that does have an effect on what we are doing and our ridership.”

In fact NFTA figures since 2003, show ridership spiked in 2012, surpassing 30 million riders, the same year gas prices spiked to their highest level ever—briefly topping $4.00 a gallon in the Buffalo area.

In the NFTA’s fiscal year that ended in April, ridership was just above 26 million. One bright spot, however, was the number of paratransit passengers using the NFTA last year set a record, topping 200-thousand for the first time in the agency’s history, and finished with 203,424 riders.

Tederous said the agency has to remind people the NFTA is changing, “To show some of the technological advances that we have made,” and cited the smartphone app called “Where’s My Bus” that allows riders to track their Metro bus through GPS technology.

When local dignitaries cut the ribbon at the new University at Buffalo School of Medicine wing at the Medical Campus, Tuesday, Tederous believes it will help boost ridership through the new and improved Allen Street Subway Station next door.

“People really do like to sit and to ride, and not have to park, and not have to deal with the snow, and not have to deal with the traffic.”

When asked if ridersharing might have been a factor in the NFTA’s recent ridership decline, Tederous said it is hard to say, since the agency’s fiscal year ended in April before ridesharing took effect in June, but Tederous believes ridesharing will eventually have a positive effect on public transportation.

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