BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A recent audit by the Authorities Budget Office claims the Transit Police force isn't necessary, but the NFTA says dissolving its crime-fighting division would sacrifice safety.
The Authorities Budget Office is an independent state agency that has oversight of authorities across New York State. Several areas were identified where the NFTA could further improve operations and generate millions of dollars in new revenue.
The audit points out that the NFTA could save up to $5 million a year if it opted to use its own safety and security staff only at airports and rely on local police agencies for the public transit system.
Authorities Budget Office Director David Kidera said, "Given the expense the police department is to the authority that is one area that the authority ought to look at potential cost savings."
But NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel says eliminating police presence on the rail system would impact riders.
"Without a safe and secure system, people won't use the system. So, those numbers do not make sense to me," she argued.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who requested the audit, believes NFTA Police should stay focused on public transportation - period.
"They can't keep creeping out into the neighborhood. That's the job of the municipal police department," Ryan said. "They need to keep their focus, like a laser beam, on providing a safe and secure transit environment."
About a mile of the NFTA's rail system is designated as a free-fare zone. Riders are allowed to board and depart without paying a fare. But the audit suggests that the NFTA evaluate whether it can afford to continue the free service.
But Ryan believes it would be too expensive to set up toll stations throughout the free-fare zone. Instead, he says, there should be more emphasis on fare violations.
"Their fine has been at $50 for fare violations for a very long time. It's so low that it's not a deterrent," Ryan said.
The audit also recommends that the NFTA stop the practice of hiring part-time or retired employees without specific job descriptions or employment contracts.
Kidera said, "When someone retires, do you need to bring them back to perform the same function that they did before? At the same time you may be promoting someone else into that position, hiring additional staff to perform that function."
"That always raises a red flag because of course that person's enjoying a pension while at the same time being contracted with the NFTA unclear of what their duties are," Ryan said.
Minkel responded, "Certainly I think we can do a better job on our job descriptions, and we're going to look at that and make those changes."
NFTA Chairman Howard Zemsky says authority staff will fully process the audit and review the recommendations for future consideration.
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