Public transportation advocates say Amherst Metro extension is just the beginning

Jan 17, 2020

Plans for an extension of the Metro Rail into Amherst are moving along, but Citizens for Regional Transit don't want to stop there. Public transportation advocates say this is just the beginning.

Credit WBFO News / WBFO

Citizens for Regional Transit (CRT) held its first quarterly meeting of the year Thursday night with hopes for laying down the plans for big future projects. The group is excited about New York State’s commitment to fighting climate change. CRT President Doug Funke said continued investment in public transit is crucial.  

“Public transportation is really going to have to be an important part of solving the greenhouse gas problem that we have in this country,” he said. “It’s the cars that is causing a big, big part of the pollution. The only way to get people out of cars is to have better, more reliable, more accommodating transportation.”

New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act has set a timeline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and make the state economy free from fossil fuels by 2050. Funke wants to do his part in making that a reality.

“We’re working with a lot of people to try and make sure that there’s laws as they get implemented, will provide the incentives and to actually invest in public transportation to make it more reliable, more viable,” Funke said.

A spokesperson from the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council also spoke at Thursday’s meeting. The GBNRTC visited urban and rural Erie and Niagara county areas asking residents what they need to make the region better. Funke said housing, economy and transportation were some of the main issues that were identified.

“A lot of people are calling for, as we are, a community rail between Buffalo and Niagara Falls,” Funke said. “We would like to see an integrated program where they start planning other extensions. Particularly to the east side and to the airport.”

One thing CRT has done is handed out petitions for increasing funding for operations in transit. Funke said that would help increase the frequency of buses.

“We’d like to see ten-minute headways on downtown and core routes during weekdays and during the daytime,” he said. “And have something like 20 minutes during weekends and night. That’s one of the goals, but to do that we need better funding.”

Funke said they are trying to get the county and the state to kick in more. Any bigger projects, however, would need funding from federal grants.

“Any big project of course, like the light rail extension, the feds would end up paying half of that,” he said. “And then the state and local governments would pay the other half, the state being the biggest part. And they’d pay almost all the other half, with local being a small amount.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the current Amherst extension. Funke hopes he will support future extension projects as well.

There are a few other projects to keep an eye on. The NFTA is moving towards purchasing electric buses and CRT has been working with the Sierra Club to promote that.

Funke said the NFTA has a couple of federal grants to provide infrastructure at their garages to support electric buses and hopes additional smaller grants from the federal government can help with that moving forward.