Discover the Discover Niagara Shuttle before it’s too late

By Darryl McPherson

Though the tourist season is still underway, the “Back to School” noises are echoing ever louder, heralding the approaching end of summer’s activities.  One of the players in the tourism game is the Discover Niagara Shuttle, which will see its second season close, with lingering thoughts of whether it will see a third.

Sara Capen, Executive Director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and project manager responsible for the Discover Niagara Shuttle, remains optimistic, and hopeful.

The Shuttle debuted last year to provide free transportation for tourists visiting Niagara Falls and Niagara County, enabling them to conveniently access local attractions, see and learn about the area, and hopefully, help stimulate the local economy.  State Assemblymember Angelo Morinello, a fan of the Shuttle, said, “it is an integral part of the entire tourism experience, and will play as an immense asset to extending the stay of tourists and the total experience.”

Ms. Capen says that to date, there have been 22,000 riders, which is an increase from last year.  “We are seeing audiences from around the world, around the country, and also local residents are using the Shuttle.”

That may be the curious spin-off effect of the Shuttle, enhancing and educating people currently residing in the area.  A rider herself, Ms. Capen encountered a group of senior citizens earlier this week.

“They were on the full tour. This was the second time they’ve done it. They’ve been getting on and off, and they love it. This is a way for residents to have a new way to look at our assets and what we have in Niagara in a different way.”

Mr. Morinello, also recounted how he and his staff found the Shuttle to be an informative venture.  Though he’s lived here all of his life, until he rode the Shuttle and had the attractions highlighted for him, he didn’t realize how much there was for visitors to do.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to get more people from outside the region to come and see what Niagara Falls has to offer.  To do that, Ms. Capen wishes for more marketing power.  “We see the shuttle as a way to increase the visitor flow and create greater economic impact for the City of Niagara Falls and the Niagara region by introducing people to places that celebrate our heritage, our amazing natural landscape and just really encourage people to experience a few days here in Niagara. And to do that, we need to be able to market it.  Marketing the shuttle is an area we’d like to focus on going forward.”

Limited by a small part-time staff and no specific marketing budget, the future of the Shuttle depends on a steady source of funds.

“Creating a sustainable funding formula to support this initiative is really the next step for this project,” Ms. Capen explained.  “We’re hoping, and are certainly hopeful, that the people and partners who have contributed already will continue to sponsor it. That’s something we would like to continue to encourage. The National Heritage Area doesn’t have a benefit from this; the economic impact is going to the attractions on the route, and going to the places and local businesses on Third Street, for example, and we’d like to continue to push that. To do that, everybody needs to contribute to make it successful. And that is always a challenge. It’s a difficult task, but one of the unique pieces of this is that all those entities have sat around the table and agreed that this is a project that’s important and they’d be willing to help fund it, so we all need to come back to the table and say how do we do that going forward.”

Assemblymember Morinello echoed that sentiment. “I would hope that we’ll be able to identify a dedicated source of revenue so that it may continue.”

Past and present contributing partners have included New York Power Authority, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Niagara University, the City of Niagara Falls, the Town of Lewiston through the Greenway Commission, New York State Parks, USA Niagara Development Corporation, and Destination Niagara USA (formerly the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation). Local businesses have also provided sponsorships.  The Shuttle also derives some revenue from selling advertising on digital screens located inside the buses.

There are currently 15 destinations on the route that stretches from Niagara Falls to Old Fort Niagara. Ms. Capen noted, “We added the Third Street Entertainment District and Oakwood Cemetery because they are currently carrying a daredevil tour. Our current route works really well. I think going forward, there are potential places to add to it, but right now, we have a pretty solid route. We intersect with the Niagara Falls Scenic Trolley route and the Metro’s Niagara Falls 55G, so from a visitor’s perspective, we’ve created a seamless experience.  Somebody who is coming in from Niagara Falls Boulevard on the Niagara Falls Metro can get off and get right on one of our trolleys and go and experience the Aquarium or the Discovery Center or the NACC.”

Ms. Capen feels the tour was properly planned.  “It was a conscientious decision not to go up and down the Niagara Scenic Parkway, but to really engage into the city of Niagara Falls,” she said.  “What we tried to do is avoid the congestion, and not create more congestion with our services. We know congestion is an issue so we’re mindful of the route so we don’t add additional vehicles to the area, but hopefully become part of the solution to alleviate congestion.”

As August enters its twilight stage, anyone with an interest in seeing the Niagara region from the “Falls to the Fort” should catch a ride on the 14 mile tour.  The Shuttle begins at 9 am each day, and picks up visitors at each location roughly every 35-40 minutes from 9 am- 6 pm, and on weekends, roughly every 45-60 minutes from 6 pm – midnight.  Four shuttles operate continuously throughout the day.  It will take a couple of hours for the full tour, but for the time being, it is a unique feature currently available to explore and enjoy.

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