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NCAA in Buffalo: A guide for automobiles, cabs and trains

If you are coming to Buffalo this week for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there is one thing you should know about getting around town and parking.

We don't have Uber or Lyft.

More on that later. Suffice to say that's something state legislators are grappling with.

You probably will see some intense competition inside KeyBank Center on Thursday and Saturday, but that's nothing compared to the contests taking place outside the arena.

There is likely to be a battle to find a parking space near the arena that doesn't cost $30. You might consider getting a hotel near the Metro Rail line that runs up and down Main Street.

The first day of the tournament, when eight teams play four games in two doubleheaders divided by a short break, is especially vexing because it takes place on a Thursday, when downtown will be filled with weekday workers and their cars.

But this is the sixth time the region has hosted the tournament, and organizers have learned how to steer visitors around the area, particularly downtown.

"Every time we do this, we get better and better," said Kevin Helfer, the city's commissioner of parking.

Heading to Buffalo for March Madness? Here's a sampling of places to stay.

So here's some advice,  based on interviews with city, tourism, transit and hospitality representatives.

Ditch the car: If you drove here, and you're staying at a downtown hotel, leave your car parked at your hotel and take the Metro Rail, especially on Thursday. Metro Rail is free throughout its aboveground section in the downtown area and drops you off at the Special Events Station, next to the KeyBank Center.

The rail also runs underground  out to the University Station, but you have to pay for that ride. If you're staying at a hotel near the airport, or in Amherst, you can drive to one of the Park and Ride lots, near the University Station, which has 350 spaces that fill up during weekdays, or the LaSalle Station one stop down Main Street, which has 730 spaces, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, a spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. Park for free and pay $4 for a round-trip ticket that covers you for the day. Check out the NFTA's website,

Metro Rail is free on Saturday: The underground section of the Metro Rail will be free all-day Saturday, the second day of the tournament. It's a special arrangement sponsored by Coors Light, Hartmayer said, that's meant to prevent drinking and driving.

We don't have Uber: New York state doesn't allow ride-sharing outside New York City. So your Uber or Lyft apps won't work here.

"It's absolutely frustrating that we don't have ride-sharing in Buffalo," said Mark Croce, a hotel developer and restaurateur. "I'm just shocked they haven't found a way to work this out."

Organizers have worked with cab companies to offer additional services during the tournament, including letting users call a licensed cab through the Curb app, said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. There also will be a dedicated drop-off and pick-up location, at Prime and Hanover streets, about a block west of the arena, for cabs serving fans attending NCAA games.

"To me, this is all about communication," Kaler said.

Parking tickets are $40: Some people took their chances during past NCAA tournaments and parked illegally on the street, because it was cheaper than the lots. For the record, a parking ticket in Buffalo brings a $40 fine.

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Parking supply and demand: It's a tradition for operators of parking lots near the arena to raise their prices during the tournament. Expect to pay $20 to $40.

Kaler said he has reached out to parking-lot operators to emphasize the importance of making college basketball fans feel welcome this week.

"They're telling me they agree, but the proof will be in the pudding when we see the signs go up on those lots," he said.

Croce, the hotel developer and restaurateur, is an investor in Pay2Park, one of the city's largest operators of parking lots. He defended the higher prices the company charges during special events, saying they are market-driven.

Jim Sandoro,  owner of several parking lots in the vicinity of KeyBank Center, charges $30 for special events. He sees that other operators charge as little as $10, though the NCAA Tournament has drawn $40-or-more prices in previous years.

“It’s supply and demand. That’s when you get to make up for the bad days," Sandoro said. “Nobody likes to pay to park, but if we’re going to grow up to be a city, we’ll have to pay the price.”

Now, $30 or $40 might not sound like a lot if you're coming here from Chicago, Philadelphia or New York City. And Croce said prices may not be as high as they were in 2014 or 2010, because there is more a supply now around the arena.

NCAA hoops fans may not recognize downtown Buffalo

Consider city-owned ramps: Your best deal remains parking in one of the city-owned ramps, such as One Seneca Tower, Adam, or even Augspurger, and walking or taking the MetroRail to the arena. Those ramps are $10 for the day and it's easier to get in or get.

The city controls the One Seneca Tower parking ramp, about three or four blocks from the arena.

"The city definitely has the very convenient locations and the best prices," Helfer said.

And HarborCenter replaced a surface lot next to the arena with an 850-space parking ramp.

Free street parking after 5 p.m.: If you only have tickets to the second doubleheader of games, and they start late enough for the timing to work out, parking is  free at meters on city streets starting after 5 p.m.

That 90-minute window: Seasoned tournament fans know it's all about getting out of the arena, finding food and a beverage, and getting back inside within the 90-minute break between the first and second doubleheader on Thursday.

The local transit authority will keep an eye on what happens at Thursday's games and try to have trains running at greater frequency, and higher capacity, during the 90-minute break to move people away from the arena and to restaurants that aren't within walking distance. Just head to the Special Events Station and hop on.

You also can snag a ride on a shuttle bus that takes you to our entertainment district, West Chippewa Street. The Chippewa Alliance will run at least two shuttle buses to bring fans from the arena to the bars and restaurants there, said Jay Manno, owner of SoHo Burger Bar and Frankie Primo's +39.

Pick up will be on Pearl Street, near the Canalside ice rink, and drop off will be at Chippewa and Delaware Avenue or Chippewa and Franklin Street. The buses will run in loops at the start and end of the 90-minute window.

"There's more competition, which was even more reason for us to do this," he said.

News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report.

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