Kearns Announces “Rate Your Ride WNY” Survey in Collaboration with Columbia Law School and WNY Law Center

Modified: November 17, 2022 1:16pm

November 16, 2022

Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns announced the launching of “Rate Your Ride WNY” survey in collaboration with Columbia Law School and WNY Law Center as part of the Clerk’s Transportation Task Force which will serve as a forum for discussing and identifying issues and solutions facing our public transportations and paratransit systems. Pictured are Stephanie Speaker, Advocate for People with Disabilities, Seniors and Veterans, Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer, WNY Independent Living, Inc, Michael P. Kearns, Erie County Clerk, and Kate Lockhart, WNY Law Center.

Survey will collect experiences and survey public transportation and paratransit customers 

Erie County, NY- Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns, during a multi-media press conference this morning in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library’s Dr. Eva M. Doyle Auditorium, announced the launch of the “Rate Your Ride WNY” survey in collaboration with Columbia Law School and the Western New York Law Center. The survey’s goal, Kearns said, is to collect experiences directly from users on their interactions with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Metro bus and rail public, as well as paratransit users, in order to improve accessibility, timeliness, and suitable stops for those with and without disabilities. 

“Families across Western New York are facing financial stresses due to inflation, skyrocketing housing prices, and stagnant wages, among other things,” Kearns explained. “The reliability and ease of use of public and para transit is imperative for many families to get to work, school, doctors’ appointments, and participate in their communities.  If we want to see WNY truly thrive, it is important to ensure that individuals and families using public and para transit have reliable, safe, and easily accessible transportation services.” 

"Access to quality public and para transit can be life changing for the rider.  Getting to and from work, doctors appointments, etc. reliably can make a huge impact on an individual's ability to keep a job, avoid late or miss appoint fees, and participating in their community,” stated Kate Lockhart of WNY Law Center.  “The ‘Rate Your Ride WNY’ survey was created to hear directly from riders about how their lives are impacted by their positive and negative experiences with public and para transit.” 

Columbia Law School students, participating in a Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, created the survey, discussed it and demonstrated it via zoom during the press conference.  Also attending and speaking about the importance of improving public transportation for the disabled were Stephanie Speaker, an advocate for people with disabilities, seniors, and veterans and Todd Vaarwerk, Chief Policy Officer for WNY Independent Living, Inc. 

The “Rate Your Ride WNY” survey was created and developed by law students Kiara Harding, Giselle Valdez and Ross Nicklos from the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia Law School. In a joint statement, the students said, "We are excited to participate in this project because we believe it’s important to uplift community members’ voices regarding their experience with public transportation to promote positive change." 

Professor Conrad A. Johnson, Clinic Director at Columbia University School of Law added, "Gathering data about how the public views their public transit system can only help inform good decision making. We applaud the Erie County Clerk and the Western New York Law Center for thinking creatively about how to use technology to highlight the authentic experiences of the public through the ‘Rate Your Ride WNY’ survey.” 

Since County Clerk Kearns served in the New York State Assembly eight years ago, he has been actively working on a bill in the Assembly and Senate with Ms. Speaker and Mr. Vaarwerk on increasing the distance from a bus stop that paratransit serves. Senator Tim Kennedy recently awarded the NFTA a $750,000 grant to study the feasibility of increasing the distance for paratransit riders and other improvements to their service. 

In March, Kearns announced that his office is forming a Public Transportation Task Force which will facilitate continuing dialogue between stakeholders in Erie County’s public transportation system.  The Task Force will provide a venue for identifying issues of concern to local public transportation users, educating them about currently available services, obtaining community input regarding potential changes to services, and working collaboratively to develop realistic strategies for improving public transportation services for Erie County residents.

Since 2018, the Erie County Clerk’s office has distributed over $80 million in mortgage tax revenue to the NFTA, with close to an additional $20 million year-to-date in 2022.

“We want to hear from you, whether you are an everyday public or paratransit user, an occasional or former rider, a city resident or a rural user,” added Kearns.  “Please visit and make your voice heard.”

Current or former users of public or paratransit services are encouraged to take the online survey at: Anyone requiring assistance may contact Western New York Independent Living, Inc. at 716-832-0822 x100 (Voice/TDD). Paper copies, in large print and easy to read formats, will be available at the Erie County Clerk’s office located at 92 Franklin Street, or request one to be mailed at or call 716-858-8864.

To view the "Rate Your Ride WNY" survey presentation conducted by students of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia University School of Law, click the link: