Metro Bus and Rail experienced one of its sharpest hikes in ridership in recent years from a combination of its new fare structure and rising gas prices pushing new riders onto public transit.
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials reported Thursday to the board of commissioners that 27.3 million riders climbed aboard Metro buses and trains during 2010, compared with 26 million in 2009 -- a 5 percent increase.
It marks the most significant surge in ridership since 2008, when soaring gasoline prices resulted in 28.2 million Metro boardings.
"The restructuring of Metro routes to provide more service in its core areas has begun to pay dividends," said Eunice A. Lewin, the NFTA commissioner who heads the Surface Transportation Committee. "Additionally, more people are seeing public transportation as a way to reduce the cost of their commute in light of the almost daily increasing price of gas and by eliminating their parking fees."
The NFTA hired national consultants several years ago to help it restructure its routes and fare schedule, resulting in a new "one zone, one fare, one system" concentration in its core area of the City of Buffalo and first-ring suburbs. The new plan eliminated zone and transfer charges, and instituted a $4 one-day pass, while monthly passes were reduced from $77 to $64.
It also resulted in increased frequencies in heavily used areas, while some suburban and rural routes were curtailed, along with other changes.
"It's cheaper for people to ride because of the streamlined fare structure," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA director of public affairs. "Every indication is that it had the positive effect we wanted it to have."
Ridership began to significantly spike after the new system's implementation on Oct. 31, he said, though gas prices also were spurring ridership.
Lewin promised that the authority will continue to review the new system and prepare for whatever surge in ridership will result from continued hikes in the price of gasoline.
"We are far from finished," she said. "We are going to continue monitoring ridership on all our routes and continue listening to our customers in an ongoing effort to ensure we are providing the most efficient public transit service possible."