Friday, June 26, 2015

It's been an awesome year

The past year has absolutely flown by. Now, I know most people measure years from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 — and usually so do I. But not today.

For the purposes of this column, I'm referencing the last 365 days — since I left my job at the Union-Sun & Journal to report the news here for East Niagara Post.

In that time, we've posted nearly 4,000 news stories, been to countless events, responded to literally hundreds of Facebook messages and emails — often in the middle of the night. We've tried to be everywhere and know everything. Of course, no one can be everywhere or know everything ... but we sure do try.

In the last 12 months, East Niagara Post has grown exponentially in terms of our reach and readership. We've added columnists, features, and readers. And with the exception of a minor hiccup in February, every single month has been our best month ever in terms of growth.

And we're not done.

In the days to come, you'll read about another staff addition here at ENP. We anticipate more stories about new staff in the future, as well. And Heather and I are constantly talking about adding new features. Well, mostly I think it's me talking and her trying to calm me down like I'm a six-month old chihuahua who just will not shut up.

It took an absolute leap of faith a year ago for me to decide to no longer receive regular paychecks and instead go to work with my partner ... in hopes that it would all work out. A year later, I have no regrets. Not about work, at least.



It was nice to see the rest of the media finally acknowledge the cancellation of the 55L bus route. The Buffalo News, Union-Sun, Niagara Gazette, Time Warner Cable news, WIVB (channel 4) and WKBW (channel 7) all ran stories about the route's demise either Monday or Tuesday — after it was already done. To be fair, the Buffalo News had written a very small blurb about it on June 5. But only ENP actually treated the route's cancellation like it affected anyone.

One of the great things about publishing online is the ability to benchmark and quantify. Thanks to the power of the Internet, I can tell you that one of the top search queries that brought people to East Niagara Post this month has been "55L."  It's not nearly as high as "East Niagara Post" — "Eastern Niagara Post," for that matter — but it's a lot higher than "Rob Ortt."

Oh, right ... Rob Ortt.

Just so you know, our state senator has yet to return my calls or emails on the topic of the 55L. Based on the two most-likely scenarios being he didn't get the messages or he decided to ignore them, I'm going to lean towards he didn't get them.

I gave (semi) serious consideration towards not allowing his name to grace this website again until I heard from him. I do have the power to do that, of course. But then I remembered I have ethics and whatnot. So instead I'm just going to ask for your help. Yeah, you. If you see Sen. Ortt, tell him to give me a call. And then tell me you told him. Then I'll know for sure that he knows I'm looking for him.

So to be clear, I'm still going to publish news about Sen. Ortt (like the press release I got at 12:26 a.m., which I'll post later today). But I'm not happy with him ... or his staff. Or the rest of the media. Or the weather.



One last thing this week: If you're one of those people that likes to complain that there's never anything to do around here, check Lockport150.com. For the next nine days, there's a ton to do around here. If you look at that list and don't see anything to do, the problem's on your end.

+Scott Leffler will be partaking in many of the city's birthday events but is particularly looking forward to 7 p.m. Wednesday when Team East Niagara Post takes on Team City Hall in kickball at Outwater Park. Come watch. Also follow Scott on Twitter @scottleffler ... and make sure to email him at scott.leffler@gmail.com when you get ahold of Sen. Ortt.


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, June 19, 2015

If a bus route is canceled and nobody cares, does it really get canceled?

For the past two weeks, East Niagara Post has published a series of stories about the cancellation of the NFTA 55L, which will cease operation at the conclusion of business today.

We've talked with bus riders and a handful of politicians about the ramifications of the fact that there is no longer a direct route between Niagara County's two largest cities on the NIAGARA (emphasis added) Frontier Transportation Authority's Metro bus service.

The riders, needless to say, weren't happy. Their lives get considerably more difficult beginning Monday. The politicians we talked to didn't seem happy about it either and were kind of upset at having been left out of the loop on the whole matter.

It's who we didn't talk to about it that most upsets me, though. Mainly because it wasn't for a lack of trying. A number of phone calls and emails were never returned -- including from the NFTA itself, several county legislators and state Sen. Rob Ortt.

The senator's office was in my first round of phone calls -- mainly because he expressed outrage over the cancellation of the 57 Route between Niagara Falls and Tonawanda. He was upset that he'd gotten additional money for the NFTA and they repaid him by cancelling a route that ran straight through his district -- his city even. So I thought he'd have something to say about the 55L.

He did not.

In fact, I called Ortt's office and emailed his staff about the issue more than once. And I never got a return phone call or email. I got several other emails, mind you. Probably about a half a dozen over the course of the last week concerning bills that the senator had sponsored in the legislative session that just wrapped up. But nothing about the NFTA. Nothing about the 55L. Nothing about Lockport.

Now I want to be perfectly clear here: I have no idea if Ortt ever got the message. I never left a message on his personal cell phone or home phone -- mainly because I don't have those numbers.

I also feel the need to state that I have no idea if several of the other politicians got their messages either, especially the county legislators who I emailed via the email addresses on the Legislature website. Who knows if they read those things?

And you see, that's part of my issue here. I'm not exactly disconnected. Sen. Ortt and nearly every member of the Legislature would greet me by name if they saw me. So if I can't get a return phone call or email, what are the odds anyone else does?

I got an email from Ortt's office at 12:02 a.m. discussing his feelings on Albany, clearly placing blame for the dysfunction in the laps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democrat-led state Assembly. He said they were out of touch with the needs of the people -- all while not addressing the concerns of the riders of the 55L.

This is one of the problems with the way government is run today. There is a level of disconnect. They're shielded from the people, controlled by handlers and told everything is gravy. Then they get out into the field and are confronted by angry constituents who feel like they're not part of the system.

On a personal level, I like Rob Ortt. He's a nice guy. Young. Energetic. He talks like a real person. As a politician, well ... he's a politician and we'll leave it at that. I'm not exactly fond of politicians. On this particular issue, I can only say I'm disappointed.

Mind you, there's a lot of disappointment to go around. I'm disappointed with the apathy of the riders of the 55L who seem inclined to believe that it's simply their lot in life and there's no way to fight the route's discontinuance. I'm disappointed in the NFTA, which made a unilateral decision based on flawed or forged numbers -- they claim 28 people rode the 55L between October and December. And they never discussed it with local politicians. I'm disappointed with the local politicians who never returned my calls or emails. Add Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster to that list, by the way. And I'm disappointed in my colleagues at the Union-Sun & Journal, who never addressed this issue once, as far as I can tell. (It's not online, at least).

To sum it up, at the end of business today, people who have no other means of transportation will have to spend both more time and more money to get from Lockport to Niagara Falls and back because a whole bunch of people with no such concerns didn't care enough to fight for them.

+Scott Leffler is news editor for East Niagara Post and no fan of the NFTA ... or politicians. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler or email your thoughts to scott.leffler@gmail.com.
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This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Lockport is the Buffalo of Buffalo

Buffalo is a very proud city — with an inferiority complex.

Mind you, when I say "Buffalo," I mean Western New York. We're all Buffalo. Lockport is Buffalo. Niagara Falls is Buffalo. West Seneca is Buffalo. We're all Buffalo. And we all have an inferiority complex. So much so that many of you were offended when I said we're all Buffalo.

But take it as fact that we're "Buffalo." We get upset when someone mentions "Wide Right" or "No Goal." We get offended when out of towners trash Western New York (Buffalo). We get our panties in a bunch when Anderson Cooper mocks Dyngus Day. Or when people say we get too much snow.

In short, Buffalo feels disrespected by the rest of the country. But who else has been to four straight Super Bowls? No one? And we know that the 1999 Sabres are possibly one of the best hockey teams in the history of hockey teams. Buffalo's a great place to raise a family on the cheap. We have great food — including Pierogi. And ... OK. We get a little bit of snow. We have to concede that. But we're still awesome.

So if Buffalo is the Buffalo of America, Lockport is undoubtedly the Buffalo of Buffalo. We opened the east to the west. We invented fire hydrants, voting machines and integrated schools. We've had some of the brightest engineers and hardest working laborers in the world. In short, Lockport's pretty awesome.

But like Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect.

Case in point: The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority shows us no love. None. Thursday it was learned that the 55L bus route from Lockport to Niagara Falls is being discontinued two weeks from today. If you want to get to the Falls, you need to go through Buffalo (the city) or take a couple different buses by transferring from the Niagara Rural Transportation to the 55F at Niagara County Community College.

Now, I say "Thursday it was learned" because it's the first time I'd seen it confirmed. I'd heard rumors, but I hadn't seen anything in writing anywhere. And I sure as heck didn't get a press release from the NFTA about it. Apparently, Lockport isn't worthy of press releases. Wanting to make sure I didn't just drop the ball on this huge story, I did a "Google News" search for "NFTA 55L." Zero hits. None. No one beat ENP to the punch. There was no punch. Barely a whimper, actually. Just a tiny notice on the NFTA website.

Mind you, the NFTA canceled weekend service to Lockport a few years ago. Now they're canceling Niagara Falls service to Lockport. Because, hey, who would want to come to Lockport anyway?

I'm sure when I finally get ahold of someone at the NFTA — I tried last night to no avail — they'll tell me that some algorithm says there's not enough riders to make it worth their while. Translation: "Sorry, Lockport. No one cares."

It's a shame, too, because I was just sharing with my friends on Facebook how excited I was about Lockport and the coolness of this town that I've grown to call home — despite my being born on the other side of the county. The announcement that the Erie Canal would be home to a zip line in Lockport just put me over the top. I counted out loud the cool things happening here in the Lock City. But cool or not, we're about to be an island — or at least a peninsula.

And despite our rich history coupled with our newfound coolness, Lockport maintains an inferiority complex. The announcement of the planned zip line, for example, was met with many "I'll believe it when I see it"s. It's hard to argue the point. I had the same reaction when the ice arena was announced. But Cornerstone Arena has made a believer out of me. And the rest of the great stuff going on swelled me with pride ... until the NFTA smacked us and put us back in our place; "Go over there, Lockport. No one loves you."

I don't know if it's too late to save the 55L. I don't know if enough people even care to do so. I put out calls last night to nearly a dozen politicians from Lockport and Niagara Falls to get their take on the matter. Expect an update later today. But even if they all come back and demand the 55L be reinstated, there would be no guarantee that the NFTA would care.

After all, we're just Lockport ... the Buffalo of Buffalo.

+Scott Leffler is a proud "Buffalonian" who calls Lockport home. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. Or don't. Whatever. It's not like he has feelings.
 
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This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.