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Discounted NFTA pass not offered to all UB students

Students have mixed feelings about paying for unlimited bus and train pass

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Students at Buffalo State College and Canisius College can use Buffalo’s light rail and buses, free of charge.

But at UB, a number of students have to dig into their own pockets for each $2 ride.

Buffalo transit company NFTA offers area colleges and universities the CRAM pass. The pass offers students transportation throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region at a discounted rate.

UB doesn’t have a full CRAM pass partnership with NFTA, despite South Campus’ University Circle being home to city bus routes and a Metro Rail stop.

NFTA has offered the pass to local colleges and universities since 2004, according to Martin Martineck, NFTA superintendent of communications and advertising. The price for a school’s full participation in the program requires students to pay $50 a semester, or $100 every academic year, according to Martineck.

“All of the schools that participate, participate fully. We can’t speak to your [approximate] 30,000 number [of students], though we can say the program was intended for undergrads only,” Martineck said in an email.

“At $75 a month – the price of a Metro Pass – public transportation is already the most efficient way to get around the region. Discounts can only be justified by the assumption that college students as a whole will not be using the pass to the same extent as individual buyers. The CRAM pass discount is significant. A school’s commitment should match.”

While Buffalo State and Canisius College offer the service to students, the colleges both have less buses and services than UB.

Christopher Austin, director of parking and transportation services, said the barrier to a full CRAM pass program for students is “cost and quantity.”

“The base program requires each of our approximately 30,000 students to pay $100 per year, a $3 million commitment the university cannot support while also providing transit service that connects the North and South campuses,” Austin said in an email.

“Even if the program was only made available to undergraduate students, it is cost prohibitive to use transportation fee dollars to support it.”

The transportation fee varies depending how many classes a student is enrolled in. Students taking 12 credit hours this past spring paid a transportation fee of $232.50, according to the Office of Student Accounts.

Buffalo State students approved a fee to cover the cost of the CRAM pass program in 2005. Austin said around that same time, both the Student Association and the Graduate Student Association agreed with his office’s assessment that a $3 million investment in the program “is not something a majority of students would support.”

Nimah Araf, a freshman psychology major, said she wants to save as much money as possible as an incoming freshman and is “all for” the CRAM pass.

“Fifty dollars for an unlimited bus pass is a great deal since you would usually have to pay [more] per month for unlimited rides,” Araf said. “With this pass, students would be able to save more money and visit the city more often since transportation wouldn’t be much of an issue.”

Jake Feerick, a fifth year applied mathematics major, said he probably would not take $50 worth of rides with the pass. Still, Feerick said, he is unsure why UB would not want to put it up for a vote.

“I think others would actually use it less than me, [and] I use the rail more than almost anyone I know, so I doubt it would really benefit other students,” Feerick said.

“Most of the money [toward the pass] would end up just going to the NFTA, and so I think it wouldn't really be beneficial to the students. Especially with ridesharing now in Buffalo, if anything, the school should explore any sorts of student discounts though those ridesharing apps.”

But a partial solution is in the works at UB’s downtown campus.

After UB opened the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences last year, Austin said UB began partnering with NFTA in January on “a pilot CRAM pass program that provides an alternative” to parking at the downtown campus. Students using the pass at the school receive unlimited bus and train use, according to Martineck.

“We continue discussions with the NFTA on how we can potentially partner on a larger programs, perhaps an opt-in alternative versus requiring all students to ‘buy in,’” Austin said.

“Both entities are hopeful that the pilot program started in January will expand to something more students can take advantage of in the future.”

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and @BenjaminUBSpec.


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