Public transportation. Ohhhh, boy, public transportation. Those who know me know there isn’t going to be anything good coming out of Buffalo for this post.
Buffalo’s public transportation authority, the NFTA, once ran a promotional commercial which featured the President of the Association randomly walking up to people on the street, asking them what they thought of the NFTA services, and getting hearty thumbs up from all the passerby. I was a college student at the time, depending on the NFTA to get back and forth to school, and I always said the same thing about that commercial: If he walked up to me, I wouldn’t actually say anything in response. I would simply clock him in the jaw and move on.
There’s a simple rule regarding the public transit in Buffalo: Those who praise it probably aren’t praising it per se, but rather praising the fact that the system is so small and buses so few and far between that the praise of those from the old commercials – allowing the benefit of the doubt that they are in fact real and not simply actors – is merely for the fact that it’s able to stay out of the way as they drive to work in their cars. Buffalo is the smallest city in the entire world to have a subway system of its own, so there’s that, I suppose. But the subway goes for a six-mile stretch along Main Street. The southernmost stops bring the subway above ground and turn it into a lightrail line for the main leg in downtown Buffalo, from the Theater District to the HSBC Arena. Passengers can ride for free on that stretch.
Fact: Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Another fun fact: The NFTA has been publicly blamed for the city’s problems with segregation, and any Buffalo resident who has ever had to catch a bus through the more impovershed areas of the city can probably tell why. You get a bus an hour at the day’s travel peaks through those parts of town. A wait can be upward of 45 minutes in the early PM hours, and that was before the serious cutbacks began.
You do NOT miss your bus in Buffalo, ever, for any reason. If you do, you have two choices: You’re either going to hoof it or make new plans.
The CTA, Chicago’s public transit association, never did manage to escape my wrath either. But whenever I was in a conversation on the failures of the CTA, I always felt obligated to make my own addendum: The L and the buses may not run on time, but they sure as hell ran, and if you missed the bus you needed it didn’t automatically cause the time apocalypse. In ten minutes, 15 tops, another one would be along soon enough. No, the CTA’s ridiculous inflation rate for a ride isn’t acceptable in the slightest, but the CTA gets the job done.
The CTA is given a nice accent by the Metra, a system of commuter trains which run out to the suburbs. Metra trains only run once per hour, but they are never late and so you always have a good idea of how long it will take to reach wherever you’re going.
People in Chicago have no idea how good they have it with the CTA. The CTA is far from perfect, but if people complain about it too loudly, I dare them to come and try to live in Buffalo for awhile.