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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ortt bill assures NFTA funding -- no word on 55L
- Independent Living to discuss Route 55L closure
- NFTA riders react to 55L cancellation
- NFTA kept officials in the dark about 55L cancellation
- NFTA cancels Lockport bus route
This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.