The Cost of Commute
By: Schondra Aytch
Before focusing my mind to write a thoughtful article on local transportation, I missed the five metro bus. But I didn’t fret, because I have Uber and Lyft on my phone. Dabbling between both apps, I found a quicker ride on Lyft. The driver just a few minutes away, called to let me know he made a wrong turn on a street close-by. With reassurance, he said he’d be in front of my house in under a minute. Of course I already knew this, because I can see exactly where he is on a map in Lyft’s app. In under ten minutes, I was transported to WNY Muslim’s office and leaving a healthy tip for the very friendly driver with just a touch of my finger. This reality, full of options, would have never been as smooth sailing without the introduction of ridesharing.
With the reputation of the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority (NFTA), and local taxi services coming under fire, Uber and Lyft have introduced the much needed competition. While nothing can defeat the five dollar day pass the NFTA provides, the bus service’s chronic lateness cannot be ignored. For local taxi’s like Liberty Yellow and Buffalo Express, their timeliness and price always vary. Though most people own a car in Western New York, alternative transportation has always been beneficial. The major question is, which mode of transportation is the most affordable?
Because cruising in a car is the default transportation for Western New Yorkers, many would believe it is the most cost effective. This is not necessarily the case. More than a third of Americans leased their cars last year and that statistic is intended to rise. With car prices rising drastically, financing has become more expensive, and harder to maintain. Leasing, which does come with better deals, can be fleeting with any sudden car damage. For those who do own their own car, gas and insurance is an eternal money shredder. With the average gas price for upstate New York being just under two dollars and sixty cents, and most cars holding between 12 to 15 gallons of gas, in a week Western New Yorkers spend around a hundred dollars(considering they fill their gas every other day). This is just on gas alone.
The NFTA which has been around since 1834, is the second most popular mode of transportation in Buffalo. Though the bus service’s reliability is shaky at times, it shines in the practicality of its routes. Public transport caters to schools, hospitals and popular businesses. Routes like the 5, 11, 20, 19 and 34 hits malls and colleges that have heavy traffic and gets particularly college students around. Overall, public transport’s best asset is its railway, which gets you to downtown Buffalo in under 15 minutes. With only five dollars a day you can go to most places in Western New York. While public transport is the cheapest way to get around, riders have to be timely. Bus rides tend to be longer, even if the route is sensible. Still it is great to consider this option for those who are on a tight budget, a seven day pass for the NFTA is only $25.
With ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft becoming a hot commodity in Buffalo, it is elusive in pricing because it’s all based on the destination and the volume of riders in the area. Luckily this past June, WGRZ Channel 2 tested the affordability of Uber and Lyft compared to local taxis and the numbers are shocking. With the ridesharing apps and liberty taxi’s app, WGRZ producers all requested to be dropped off at the Macy’s entrance of the Galleria mall. While the riding time was similar for all three rides, every price was different. Uber had the lowest price at $12.49, Lyft was second with only $0.30 more, but the local taxi was significantly more at $22. With the notion that ridesharing is already cheap, It’s likely WGRZ’s experiment will only encourage more Uber and Lyft riders.
Western New York is unique in its transportation culture in that even before the popularity of ridesharing, there was a value in having versatility when commuting. A great example of this is the park and ride initiative the NFTA promotes for city workers that live in the suburbs. With park and ride, popular pickup areas for trains and buses provide parking areas for drivers. With sports arenas in the city, games and events brings drivers to ride the rail into the city. A natural tendency for most metro areas, people tend to not drive when enjoying city life. This is probably where ridesharing takes the most money from local taxis and public transit. Ridesharing provides a quicker, easily accessible, and private ride for half the cost of a taxi.
As Uber and Lyft becomes acquainted with Western New York, there is a legitimate question into how ridesharing will affect the local economy. With the NFTA’s turbulent financial history, and both Uber and Lyft already giving money to public transport for access to areas like airports and malls, there’s guaranteed to be price fluctuations in the future. While things could change as reliability changes for every mode of transportation, it’s still interesting how new technology in transportation could change cost and culture.