A major vehicle overhaul in the offing and elimination of two venerable fare forms were among the changes I noted in the wake of last Friday’s visit to Buffalo, N.Y. — through direct evidence of the latter and unspoken testimony to the former.
The trip marked my first serious railfanning visit since 2002 or 2003 — a long time, really, considering how much time I spent there in the past: I grew up 70 miles away and went to college just 20 miles away in Niagara Falls (and within the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s sprawling Metro Bus service area) so this system has loomed large in my life as a transit enthusiast. Alas, work and life have increased the distance between myself and the Nickel City.
Check out my pictures of Friday’s adventures, including some bus photos, in this Flickr gallery. For some of my vintage images, including two rare images of ex-Cleveland PCCs once owned by NFTA, in this Flickr gallery.
So, what did I observe?
Many light rail vehicles still wearing Metro’s old livery of light cream with yellow, orange and brown stripes (think haute early ’80s, with interior seat inserts to match). When I last visited the better part of a decade ago, some of the LRVs were already wearing the new livery (a whiter white with blue and gray stripes, and updated blue interior seat inserts to match). On Friday, many of the trains were surprisingly still wearing the old colors.
This seems to be the result of a major overhaul program which has been delayed. You can learn more about the program in this Feb. 16, 2010 Buffalo News article. As noted in the piece, the $40 million renovation program got under way with cars 114 and 123 at Gray Manufacturing Industries in Hornell, N.Y. Most interesting about this story? The assertion the mid-life overhaul: A.) was cheaper than new cars, and without the rebuild “our ability to run Metro into the future would have been brought into question,” according to NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler; and B.) “It will take 2 and a half years for the entire fleet to emerge from the Hornell shops, but then it will be at least 2030 before the NFTA figures it will have to address the problem again.” Wow. Even with the rebuild, those 46-year-old Tokyu cars ought to be a real draw for railfans come 2030. That sort of longevity would rival some PCC cars.
Of course, the February Buffalo News article reported that the first two cars were set to return to Buffalo in May “for trials in the system’s yard and shops and then nightly test runs in the subway itself. They are expected to re-enter revenue service in July.” That has proven to be a moving target. According to minutes from the Oct. 21, 2010 meeting of NFTA’s Surface Transportation Committee, delivery of the first vehicle (originally scheduled for July 2008) is expected this month and the second in December, with both anticipated to resume revenue service in February 2011.
Updated destination signs on the trains. Instead of white lettering on a black background the latest signs use white lettering on a blue background. That, and the names of the two usual terminals are among several stations with updated designations: Auditorium Station has become Erie Canal Harbor as the former Buffalo Memorial Auditorium was demolished last year. South Campus, meanwhile, is now merely “University.” Other name changes since I last visited: Allen-Hospital is now Allen-Medical Campus, while Delevan-College is now Delevan/Canisus College.
Farewell to tokens and transfers. While not specific to Metro Rail, these changes mark the end of two mainstays of transit operation here (and among a dwindling number across the country to continue their use). Changes to Metro’s fare system effective Sept. 1 eliminated its multi-zone fare system.
According to Metro’s Website, “You can ride from one end of a route to the other for $1.75. No zone charges will add up as you travel from Buffalo to Tonawanda to Niagara Falls. Pay once and sit back.” That, and NFTA no longer needs to sell 12 types of passes, just two: $64 monthly and $4 daily. Nominal bus-to-bus transfer fees (I believe the starting fee was 35-cents before the change) are eliminated, and so riders must pay $1.75 each time they board a vehicle. For a round-trip involving multiple vehicles each way, the $4 day pass would thus save riders money. The transit historian in me is, of course, disappointed to see another system eliminate the time-honored use of transfers which dates back to trolley days (they were reportedly patented by a Rochesterian in 1892).
Also eliminated are tokens, another vestige from trolley days. Sales ceased after Sept. 1, although NFTA will continue to accept them until August 2013. The brown, dime-sized tokens formerly sold by NFTA had been in use for decades and are on the way to becoming another lost link with Buffalo’s transit past.