BUFFALO, NY – Thursday was a day a lot of people had been waiting for, as ride-sharing officially became operational and available in in Western New York.
A bill to allow ride sharing services in areas around the state outside of New York City was approved as part of the state budget in April.
“Never again when the national or international eye comes to our area, like during the NCAA Tournament or the NHL Combine, will visitors have to experience the shock that with all the good going on here, we do not have ride sharing,” said NYS Sen. Chris Jacobs (R-60th District) during a news conference at Canalside, where he and other lawmakers arrived using Uber.
But beyond Buffalo now being able to say that it too offers ride-sharing, others see an economic windfall from this new way to get around.
"We have had thousands of people sign onto our platform to become drivers here in the Buffalo area,” said Stephanie Smith, a Senior Public policy manager with Uber. “In the state of New York, we have 50,000 signed on and that just continues to grow."
“I’m getting ready to retire and I wanted to make some extra cash, so I figured this'd be a good way to do it," said Mike Frank of Hamburg, who brought Jacobs (who was his very first customer) to the news conference via his Uber vehicle.
However, Jacobs also thinks there could be further economic benefits from the service that have yet to dawn on people.
“What if a family can now can get by with just one car instead of two? Imagine the money that would put in their pockets…maybe to start a college fund, or put a down payment on a house,” he said.
Bruce Popko, Chief Operating Officer for Pegula Sports entertainment, predicts that within a few years, thousands of fans who come to Sabres games at Key Bank Center, and Bills games at New Era field, will get there through ride sharing.
"I think certainly that will be true if you’re not going to be part of the tailgating experience, and your just looking for easy transport to and from the events,” said Popko.
And while Lyft and Uber drivers will get stuck in traffic like everyone else, Popko insists their passengers will still benefit, because they will be able to be dropped off in “strategically located” areas near both venues.
“They will be able to walk right in…and it will be very easy for them in terms of ingress and egress.
Trust me, the details will come soon and I think you’ll be very impressed," said Popko, who added that ride-sharing drop off and pickup points at New Era Field in particular will be established by the time the Bills play their first pre-season game in August.
Fans who utilize ride sharing services to attend games will also not have to pay for parking, which would perhaps be another economic benefit to them. Or at least leave them with some extra funds to offset the costs for pricey concessions, such as the $5 bottles of water sold within the stadium, which does not permit liquid refreshments to be brought in.