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The Mind of a Transit Geek

OK, I admit it. I’m a geek. Always have been. Always will be. At least when it comes to transit issues. Yes, I’m a transit geek. A proud transit geek.  And I’m comforted to know, there are a lot of transit geeks out there like me, who care about transit, who follow transit issues and believe in the future of public transit.

My road to transit geekdom was in large part, if not entirely because I grew up in Toronto – a city that, relative to most North American cities, has a great transit system, called the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). I grew up on buses, subways and streetcars. So did everyone else around me. We took the TTC to school, to work, to the mall, to the movies, to the lakefront. It was just part of the culture of life in Toronto. And because life for me till this day is intimately tied to Toronto’s transit system (I own no car), and because of my five decades old love for all things Buffalo, my interest in the NFTA has been part of my life ever since I was a kid. (admit it, that’s geeky!)

NFT-Buffalo-NYSo just how transit geeky am I? I am such a transit geek, that even as a child when we would make our visits into Buffalo to visit family, I paid attention to the NFTA bus stop signs of the 1960’s and 70’s. And I still remember them to this day. They were small square yellow pieces of metal attached to a pole with only the words Bus Stop stamped into the metal and underneath, the letters NFT (Niagara Frontier Transit).

How transit geeky am I? In the early 1980’s the NFTA adopted the name “Metro” for its bus system. To this day, I still remember the radio advertising jingle the NFTA used to promote its rebranded system, (cue the music….“You you and Metro and me me and Metro…”). I dare anyone to top that degree of transit geekiness.

Decades later, I still am a transit geek and still as interested in the NFTA as ever.   I know all about the criticisms levied at the NFTA. I get it. I saw it. I lived it.   Back in 2007-2008 when I resided (carless) in Buffalo, I used the Metrobus to get around if I couldn’t use my bike.   The schedules were weird. The frequency was lacking. The bus shelters were too few and too unkempt. The buses, while clean, were never full. It was disappointing. But that was then, and this is now.

The NFTA still has issues. I know it. But between a trio of recent news clips from Buffalo Business Journal, I am more hopeful and optimistic about the NFTA’s future than ever before.   Indeed, I feel the NFTA is playing its role and contributing its part to the renaissance of a new Buffalo.

Good news came to the NFTA a couple weeks ago, when Senator Schumer announced that the NFTA will not be losing the $3.6 million dollars in federal aid that initially was cut from a federal spending bill. The funds were restored, saving the need for service cuts or hikes in ticket prices.   More recently, the NFTA announced it is significantly upgrading concessions and retail offerings at its downtown bus station, and for the first time in Metro Rail history, NFTA will be providing concessions and retail offerings at seven rail stations too in the form of grab and go foods, food carts and/or food trucks.   This is great news and long overdue. Not only will these rail stations offer customers a much needed service, the presence of retail operations at these rail stations will make them busier, safer and livelier.

But perhaps the best news the NFTA received this fall is that it was awarded for 2015 a coveted TIGER grant of $18 million from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to continue the car sharing redevelopment project along Main Street. TIGER is an acronym for Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery and these highly competitive federal grants are sought after by communities large and small from all fifty states to encourage transit development as a way of boosting local economic growth.

Why is this such a big deal for Buffalo?   Because of the 627 TIGER applications filed by cities across the United States, only 39 were selected to receive funding.   I surmise that Buffalo was one of the lucky few, because the U.S. DOT has recognized the positive economic impact that the Main Street car sharing program was already having on the community.   In fact, it was previous TIGER grants the city received, that provided the millions needed to return cars to Main Street’s 500, 600 and 700 blocks.

And while some like myself are scratching their heads trying to understand why the current TIGER grant stipulates that funds be used to redevelop Main Street between Scott and Exchange Streets (as opposed to the 400 block), the news is still good – an indication that the Feds acknowledge transit investment is reaping economic rewards for Buffalo.   I believe it will only be a matter of time before further TIGER grants will complete the car sharing program connecting lower Main Street to the 400 block.

These are all good signs and not just from an economic standpoint, but from a demographic standpoint too.   As Buffalo becomes a more attractive a place to live, it will invariably attract more Millennials to its downtown core. Millennials are already playing a large role in Buffalo’s rebirth and will continue to do so in the next decade. Millennials love transit and use transit and other alternative means of transportation to get around town.     Given both the demographic and economic influence that Millennials will effect on Buffalo, it makes sense that the NFTA should invest more into making public transit more appealing, convenient and reliable.

With new amenities coming soon to an NFTA rail station near you, with new Federal dollars opening up more of Main Street, and finally with the NFTA getting on board with light rail expansion plans, the future for public transit in Buffalo, in my opinion, looks bright for everyone – Millenials, Gen Y’rs, Gen X’rs….and transit geeks like me.

Written by Lorne Opler

Lorne Opler

Toronto born and raised, but with my roots solidly planted in Western New York, I have been visiting Buffalo and enamored with Buffalo ever since I was a kid. I love writing for BRO but equally enjoy writing about Buffalo for Southern Ontario audiences to introduce them to all the great things happening in the renaissance city. When I'm not writing, I'm teaching fitness and health promotion at a community college in Toronto and running my own personal training business. Visit my website at www.lorneopler.com

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