An annual Hyde Park picnic celebration for those with physical and mental challenges included a press conference Monday to protest the closing of a bus line which runs between Lockport and Niagara Falls.
The press conference was held so that those from Independent Living of Niagara County could voice their concerns over the closure of a portion of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Metro Bus route 55L, effective Monday.
“We’re here to drum up support for either the retention or the restoration of the 55L,” said Todd Vaarwerk, a spokesperson for Western New York Independent Living, the umbrella organization that includes the Niagara association. Vaarwerk introduced consumers impacted by the route closure. “I wanted the media to hear their stories, because these are the people who will be affected when the route goes away.”
Megan Dimond, a wellness coach for Independent Living, said she was lucky she moved to Lockport just before the route was closed, or she would have never been able to get to work each day, but the closure impacts her ability to visit friends and loved ones.
“I depend on it to be able to see my parents and family and friends in Niagara Falls,” she said. Without the bus, she said, the assortment of buses she has to take requires a minimum of three hours travel.
Jennah Swygert, 17, and her brother William, 15, who live with their mom in Lockport, said the route closure will impact their visits with their disabled father in Niagara Falls. “It makes it harder for us to stick together as a family, Jennah said.
Those leading the press conference stressed they were not criticizing the NFTA, but rather seeking to work together for the betterment of the community and people with disabilities.
State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, spoke at the press conference and promised to work with the NFTA and local politicians toward a solution to “make sure our folks who are most vulnerable, who need some form of transportation, have that ability.”
A representative of state assemblyman John Ceretto presented a letter from Ceretto which he sent to Kimberly Minkel, head of the NFTA, calling for more a more extensive data collection from the transportation authority. Ceretto also expressed concern that no public hearings had been held on the matter.