07.21.16

SCHUMER URGES FEDS TO APPOVE LOCAL PROPOSAL TO ADD 24 NEW, CLEANER & RELIABLE BUSES TO THE NFTA FLEET; NFTA BUSES ARE ON AVERAGE 20% OLDER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE; 50 BUSES ARE OUT OF SERVICE AT ANY GIVEN TIME, CAUSING DELAYS, ROUTE CANCELLATIONS AND STRANDED COMMUTERS; VOWS TO FIGHT TOOTH & NAIL TO SECURE FED FUNDING

Schumer Pushes NFTA’s Grant Proposal To Receive Fed Dollars From New Bus Funding Program In The FAST Act; Schumer Helped Create New Program That Helps Erie County & Other Upstate NY Counties Replace Aging Bus Fleets

 Fed Investment Will Allow NFTA To Purchase 24 New, Lower-Polluting Compressed Gas Buses & Implement New Bus Safety Training Program For NFTA Drivers

 Schumer: WNY Commuters Deserve Clean, New Buses To Get to and From Work, Shopping and More

During a visit to Buffalo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced a major push to replace the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) aging bus fleet without raising bus fares. Schumer revealed that NFTA’s existing bus fleet is 20 percent older than the national average and in constant need of servicing. Schumer’s appearance in Buffalo constituted the official launch of his effort to help NFTA secure a federal grant, which will add 24 new, cleaner compressed gas buses, install a fueling station, and implement new bus safety training program for NFTA drivers. Schumer said the $12 million federal investment would be a major boost to the NFTA, which has been struggling to shoulder the cost of maintaining an aging fleet in recent years.

“NFTA buses keep the engine of the entire regional economy humming, but it cannot continue to function at top-capacity with upwards of 50 buses out of service month. The NFTA’s service is vital for many working families across Erie and Niagara County – and the recently passed, 5-year federal transportation bill includes a grant program that can help NFTA modernize its bus fleet. I was proud to fight for the creation of this program, because it’s just what the doctor ordered for the NFTA to replace aging, often unreliable buses. This fleet is in desperate need of new buses  to prevent delays and route cancellations so commuters can get to work each morning and out to shop and enjoy WNY's many recreational activities on the weekends,” said Schumer. “I am fighting tooth and nail to get the NFTA the funding it needs to update its fleet, so Western New York residents and travelers can enjoy safer, faster, and more efficient rides.”

Schumer explained that the 5-year federal transportation bill, the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act was passed in Congress in December 2015. This bill, which Schumer helped pass, provides a total of over $16.3 billion in direct infrastructure spending to NY State over the next five years. That is $1.5 billion more than New York would have received in a flat-funded bill, and amounts to an average annual increase of over $300 million above current spending levels. In addition to this funding increase, under the FAST Act, NY State will see an increase in its relative share of transportation spending compared to other states.

On top of these funding increases, Schumer noted that the bill includes several major victories that could help improve Upstate NY’s transit systems and infrastructure. In particular, Schumer highlighted a new discretionary, competitive program that provides funding to municipalities to replace aging bus fleets. Schumer fought hard to ensure that this program was included in the final bill. This program has been funded at an average of $300 million per year, each year for the next five years. Schumer made funding this program a priority, following countless meetings with New York State transportation leaders who had urgent bus funding needs.

Schumer said this Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding stream will be significant for municipalities that are looking to update their fleets for maintenance and safety reasons without raising bus fares for customers. Today Schumer launched his push to secure $12 million from this federal funding pot for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) in Western New York. The funding would allow NFTA to purchase 24 40-foot compressed natural gas (CNG) transit buses, enhance the sustainability of the NFTA’s only CNG fueling station, and build a leadership program to support CNG fleet operations and create ladders of opportunity in the transit industry.

According to NFTA officials, the current bus fleet is old and in severe need of an update. In fact, as of March 2016, the NFTA’s average bus fleet age was approximately 22 percent higher than the national average. According to the NFTA, in 2015 alone, between 35 and 55 buses were out of service each month for maintenance work. Schumer said if they are not replaced or updated, NFTA bus users could suffer the consequences. Schumer said any delay in purchasing new buses could result in delays, route cancellations, and stranded commuters throughout Erie and Niagara Counties.

Therefore, Schumer vowed to fight to secure funding for the NFTA on the heels of the creation of this critical new bus grant program. To help the NFTA achieve its long-term fleet goals and reduce maintenance costs, the NFTA has invested $10 million in FTA funding, $5 million in New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) funding and $18 million in local funding to construct a CNG fueling station, retrofit the Frontier Bus Garage for CNG bus storage and maintenance, and purchase 44 replacement CNG buses already. Schumer said this additional $12 million in federal funds would allow the NFTA to leverage prior federal, state, and local investments to purchase 24 additional buses, install the new fueling system and implement new bus safety training program so NFTA drivers are prepared to support and operate the CNG fleet.

Schumer said these funds are critical for the thousands of riders who utilize the bus system, as the NFTA needs to upgrade its aging fleet and bring new buses online soon if it is going to keep up with demand and continue providing safe, quality services to residents and visitors to Erie and Niagara Counties. In addition, Schumer said this new discretionary bus grant program will help manufacturers across Western New York. Schumer said this is because additional transit spending nationwide increases their business and supports local workforces.

Schumer’s efforts to help create this new discretionary bus program, combined with the successful restoration of critical 5340 funding, will be a major lift to transit agencies across New York State. The 5340 High Density States funding program is critical to transit agencies across the state and was on the chopping block last year. Schumer fought hard to save it and successfully did so, as many of New York State’s transit agencies rely on this federal funding to help balance their already tight budgets. Schumer explained that this 5340 funding has allowed area transit agencies to operate their regional transportation services for years. Eliminating this direct funding to transit agencies, like the NFTA, RGRTA, CDTA and others in Upstate, would have left those agencies with less funds available for critical maintenance, system upgrades, and to ensure reliable and important service is provide throughout NY State.

Schumer was joined by Kimberly A. Minkel, Executive Director, NFTA; Hal Morse, Executive Director, of Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Authority; and Tod Vaarwerk, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at WNY Independent Living, Inc.

Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA Executive Director said, “NFTA-Metro is at a pivotal moment in the management of its 314 bus fleet. As of March 2016, Metro’s average bus fleet age is approximately 22 percent higher than the national average and 42 percent of Metro buses are beyond their 12-year federal useful life. An award of approximately $12 million in Federal Transit Administration funding through this discretionary grant opportunity will dramatically lower Metro’s fleet age.  It will reduce maintenance costs, enhance the experience for the over 70,000 weekday bus riders, improve safety and leverage recent federal, state, local and private-sector investments in Metro’s Compressed Natural Gas fueling capability to fully realize its environmental and fiscal benefits. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s advocacy on this project, and his continued support for improved transit options in Western New York.”

Hal Morse, Executive Director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council said, “The Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council indicates that continued upgrade of the NFTA transit fleet supports the Regional Plan for Sustainable Development and helps build a reliable transit system to improve access to jobs in the area, build quality communities and improve social equity. The support of Senator Schumer is much appreciated in this endeavor.”

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the FTA appears below:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am pleased to write in support of the NFTA’s request for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding to purchase 24 40-foot compressed natural gas (CNG) transit buses, enhance the sustainability of the NFTA’s only CNG fueling station, and build a leadership program to support CNG fleet operations and create ladders of opportunity in the transit industry.

Approval of the NFTA’s FFY 2016 Section 5339 Discretionary Bus and Bus Facility application is necessary to improve the NFTA’s fleet age and condition, secure critical fueling redundancy, reduce maintenance costs, improve safety, and create leadership opportunities for NFTA staff. Program funding will better position the NFTA to leverage prior federal, state, and local investments in CNG technology and achieve the critical mass of CNG operations necessary to fully realize the environmental, economic, and cost benefits of their CNG bus program.

The NFTA’s proposal is consistent with the goals of the program and will meaningfully advance program objectives including improving the condition of the nation’s transportation bus fleets, expanding transportation access to employment, education, and healthcare, and improving mobility options for people throughout the county.

Please give this application your full consideration. Thank you for your continued leadership.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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