Sen. Sean Ryan targets NFTA for low driver wages and route cuts (WBEN)
"Pay their drivers a competitive wage."
Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - Standing in front of the NFTA Delavan/Canisius College Metro station in Buffalo Friday morning, New York State Senator Sean Ryan launched a blistering attack against the NFTA, accusing the public transit authority of paying low driver wages while cutting routes.
“The NFTA refuses to pay a fair and honest wage," said Ryan as he compared the $16.33 starting hourly wage for a metro driver in Buffalo to the nearly $22 hourly wage he says is paid in both Rochester and Syracuse public transportation. “Sixteen dollars for a highly skilled job, and your job is to carry the most precious cargo, other human beings, young people, old people. It’s a job with a lot of responsibility.”
Ryan says the NFTA received $60 million in funding from the state last year, $10 million more than in 2015 and all while cutting routes on nights and weekends and eliminating two-thirds of the express routes.
Senator Ryan is calling for the NFTA to negotiate a new wage structure with drivers and says their last deal expired in 2009 and years of flat wages followed. He says the NFTA is blaming the pandemic for a driver shortage when the real issue is the low wages paid to drivers.
Jeffrey Richardson heads up the ATU Local 1342 representing drivers and is joining in the fight for increased wages. “You can make more at McDonalds, you can make more at Aldi, you can make more at Tops, you can make more at Wegmans….it’s absurd.”
For riders, it's all part of a frustrating brew as they deal with route cuts that they say is due to a shortage of drivers and the low wages. Dennice Barr with the Buffalo Transit Riders group says she has no confidence in NFTA leadership and Executive Director Kimberly Minkel. “I think she’s completely out of touch. I think she doesn’t understand anything about what it is for me to have to a place like here today and get back home. I think she has no idea what it is to ride a bus.”
In response to the criticism from Ryan and others, the NFTA released the following statement to WBEN:
“We appreciate Senator Sean Ryan’s continuous and strong commitment to the importance of public transportation and the NFTA.
With respect to wages, it is critical to point out that the wage comparisons are misleading. Rochester has a completely different pay structure. We offer an extremely competitive compensation package that includes gold standard health care benefits during and after employment as well as a pension. The average driver earns more than $60,000 a year, our perks are the reason we have a 93% retention rate.
As far as our service reductions are concerned, we are working diligently to return to normal operations and are making great strides in our recruitment efforts.”