A recent study led by Daniel B. Hess, University at Buffalo associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, shows that the more UB students, faculty and staff are provided rate reduced/free access to the Metro Rail, the more they are willing to give up their car and explore the city.
A number of UB students, faculty and staff were given free access to the Metro Rail for 20 months in 2011. The experiment showed that the participants did a couple of things that we would expect. The participants increased their walking regimen and left their cars behind. Surprisingly, a few of the participants actually ditched their cars for good, while others stopped pursuing the idea of purchasing cars. In order to qualify for the study, participants either had to live along the rail, or use it to get from South Campus to the Medical Campus routinely. The study showed:
25 percent of the respondents stated they did not own a vehicle and delayed purchased a vehicle.
61 percent stated they walked and bicycled more.
69 percent stated they used Metro Rail to visit new places in and around Buffalo.
At least 108 parking spaces at UB sat empty every weekday as a result of participants riding the Metro Rail.
“The findings are significant because they show how a transportation program affects human behavior. In this case, free Metro Rail use led people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly decisions that improved the quality of life in the city of Buffalo and its surrounding regions,” Hess said.
In the end, the cost-benefit ratios are rather complicated. The team looked at the cost of the discounted Metro Rail passes that UB doled out, and then the savings to the students for not driving vehicles. UB saved money by reducing operations on its Blue Line bus that runs between its two urban campuses. If the Blue Line was scratched altogether, additional savings would be substantial. Moving forward, that money could be applied to an ongoing program that would help keep the Metro Rail costs down for students and faculty, thus offsetting potential losses for the NFTA (that helped to subsidize the program).
Ultimately there will have to be a stronger partnership in place between UB and the NFTA that will entice more students and professors to ride the rail.
UB has the ability to alleviate parking issues, ditch a costly bus line, and provide quality of life and transportation savings for faculty and students. The NFTA has the chance to increase daily ridership by working with an institution that could be considered its “bread and butter” for the Metro Rail.
While UB ended up recouping money, the deal also saw a loss in foregone revenue for the NFTA. But, if many of the participants were not riding the Metro Rail on a regular basis to begin with, then those losses might not be as worrisome as the numbers purport. Either way, the study’s authors recommend that UB and NFTA move forward with the program, which would be good for all parties involved if short and longterm agreements can be reached.