There are many people waiting for tourism and travel take off again, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is chief among them.
While airlines, railroads and bus companies have been ensuring passengers abide by COVID-19 guidelines to the extent their mode of transportation will allow, the number of travelers, as one would expect, have plummeted in recent months.
Buffalo-Niagara and Niagara Falls International Airports were among those seeing declines throughout 2020 and Helen Tederous, director of public affairs for the NFTA, said the low numbers were expected and it’s not likely to get better — until a major change happens at the border.
“Really what is causing challenges, in addition to the restrictions, is the closure of the U.S.-Canadian border …” she said. “If we’re talking about the Niagara Falls airport, that’s 83 percent of our customers. It’s causing some challenges. We did have a few flights that were a little bit more full than others, but really a marginal increase. So we had an increase, but a slight increase.”
Officials announced this past week that the border will remain closed to non-essential traffic till at least the end of February.
Travel at Niagara Falls Airport is down 90 percent, Tederous said, with Buffalo Niagara down 75 to 85 percent. On top of this, Spirit Airlines left Niagara Falls International Airport in September, which also played a role in declining flyers.
Initially, there were some worries about people adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines established, Tederous has found people are abiding by the guidelines as much as possible. At certain times they do have to provide reminders for people as well as having signage directing people to follow these pieces of guidance. Announcements every 15 minutes about wearing masks have been a consistent feature at the airpots since the pandemic. For 2021, NFTA is remaining cautiously optimistic about how travel will be proceeding.
“We are certainly hoping for the best,” Tederous said. “Of course we want a sense of balance that we want a community for our passengers to be traveling safely. We’re working with the airlines on those health concerns that people What were looking for is happier times. We’re optimistic that the U.S.-Canadian borders will be open for us and that we’ll be back to normal as soon as possible.”
Amtrak hasn’t faired much better with passenger services down across the country. Service on their Empire Service and Maple Leaf trains saw a 39,6 percent ridership decline with 382,846 riders in 2019 to 231,078 in 2020. Niagara Falls stations saw great ridership declines from 34,965 to 15,983, according to Amtrak officials.
Some of these declines, specifically with Maple Leaf service come from the reasons plaguing local airports, the closure fo the United States-Canada border since Maple Leaf trains typically travel through Ontario before terminating at Toronto’s Union Station.