Follow up letter to the NFTA from Chairwoman April N.M. Baskin

Modified: April 21, 2020 5:03pm

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Re:         Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority

Dear Members of the Erie County State Legislature Delegation:
I am writing concerning the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) and their policies regarding Metro Bus services during the COVID-19 outbreak.  I have a variety of concerns about the NFTA and how they are handling the COVID-19 situation and wanted to bring to your attention some of these matters.  My concerns center around the NFTA’s handling of bus passenger congestion during the COVID-19 outbreak and concerns raises by passengers and operators alike, about limiting the number of riders on Metro buses to ‘essential riders’ to try and limit exposure and protect the passengers and bus operators. 
I have sent two letters to the NFTA and have held two teleconference calls with the NFTA’s director of surface transportation and manager of grants.  Regrettably, continuing a pattern established in 2018, Kimberley Minkel, the authority’s executive director refuses to respond directly to me, deferring to subordinates.  Assemblywoman Monica Wallace has also contacted the NFTA directly to express her concerns on behalf of her constituents and the hard-working men and woman of the NFTA.
                That being said, during my two cordial teleconference calls with NFTA managers, they have noted changes made to the bus service to address some, but not all, of my concerns.  Effective now, buses have a twelve-foot barrier between the driver and riders, all drivers have masks and gloves, and per Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s order, all riders are now required to cover their face.  I thank the NFTA for taking action on these matters.
                I also want to address passenger safety.  The one area where the NFTA has resisted further protective measures is addressing bus congestion.  I have received reports of crowded buses where there is no effective way for passengers to engage in physical distancing.  The NFTA has acknowledged these instances where ‘non-essential’ persons who are not essential employees or riding the bus to purchase food or medicine or attend a doctor appointment are on the buses and raising concerns.
                I represent many individuals who are considered essential workers – grocery store clerks, janitors, home healthcare aides, and others – who rely completely on the NFTA to get to-and-from work and home every day.  Just like the drivers, they need to be protected also.
I am asking the NFTA to limit the number of riders on a bus to 10 people. By limiting a bus to 10 passengers, this would allow for a barrier and distancing between passengers.  The NFTA’s concern and opposition to this idea is that by setting a limit on the number of people on the bus, they will be forced to leave riders at the bus stop.  However, there is a solution.  On the most heavily traveled routes, the NFTA could have a so-called ‘chaser bus’ follow in order to pick up missed passengers.
I have also requested the NFTA place signage on every other seat indicating that this seat should be left empty to ensure there is a barrier between passengers. While it is impossible to maintain a six-foot distance between people on a bus, any barrier is beneficial to a rider’s safety. I also believe the messaging on the seat will reinforce the need to keep distance from each other.
                Finally, I am calling on the NFTA Board of Commissioners and Ms. Minkel to join me on a bus ride on a heavily-trafficked bus route to experience the ride and situation facing NFTA passengers now.
                I am hoping that through this letter, your offices can advocate for these changes and press the NFTA to take additional measures to promote rider safety, including essential workers and some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.  I hope to hear from you concerning this matter.
                                                                                                April N.M. Baskin
                                                                                                Chair, Erie County Legislature
cc:           Kimberley Minkel, Executive Director, NFTA
                NFTA Board of Commissioners
                Jeffrey Richardson, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1342