When I heard that New York State gave the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority $2 for a parcel of land on the outer harbor worth $4 million, I had to ask myself: What do I get for my $2 when I hand it over to the NFTA to ride the Metro bus and rail? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Am I getting a good deal?
There are definitely benefits. I save on the cost of gas, quite high and likely to remain so. Using my car less, I save on maintenance costs. I could potentially save on the cost of buying a car altogether, if I chose to go totally transit. I also save time, using it more effectively to catch up on reading instead of negotiating traffic. Before I retired, I used that time to prepare for my day at the office. The choice of not driving is also beneficial to my health, reducing my stress level while someone else gets me to my destination safely. In addition, the exercise I get when I walk to and from transit provides another health benefit.
There are also costs. I spend more time getting to where I am going. I need to consult bus schedules and plan my day more carefully. I bundle several errands for one trip to the same general vicinity. On one trip I might take care of all the things I need to do within a block or two of the Central Library; on another I might cover the area near the UB South Campus. It is difficult to be spontaneous in this lifestyle. It is also difficult to rely on transit at night and on the weekend, when service is reduced. Getting to the suburbs on public transportation is challenging, with the combination of long wait times and unsafe pedestrian crossings.
Do these costs outweigh the benefits? For some people they do, but there is another important factor to consider: the added value of intangible benefits. Foremost among these is the people factor.
I observe the best in human nature. Children interact with their parents or grandparents, experiencing the essence of family bonding as they talk about the most ordinary things. Riders go out of their way to help passengers using wheelchairs, carrying strollers or heavy packages, and needing directions.
People who haven’t seen each other in ages light up: “Where are you staying now? Are you still working there? How’s your mother? I haven’t seen you in church in a while.” Students try their best to keep up with coursework, sandwiching it between work and home. Immigrants try not to be completely bewildered as they navigate a new place with a new language.
Sometimes I go beyond observing to converse with my fellow riders at the bus stop or on the train platform. I’ve had interesting interactions with a woman who works at my favorite downtown lunch place, another woman who has since become a friend, a former co-worker and a man reading a novel by an obscure author, to name a few.
Aside from the people, there is another source of added value. I take transit to wherever I want to go, but transit also takes me to places I would not otherwise see. Bailey Avenue reminds me of my early years in Brooklyn. Parts of Sycamore Street remind me of my high school years. On Seneca Street, there is a really cool Olmsted park.
So, yes, the benefits of public transportation do outweigh the costs – for me, anyway. The cost of a ride: $2. The experience that goes with it: priceless.