Cuomo’s LaGuardia Train Would Be Slower Than Existing Transit

When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transportation Politic
When it comes to travel times, Cuomo’s proposed LaGuardia AirTrain wouldn’t fare well compared to existing bus and subway service. Graph: The Transport Politic

The centerpiece of Governor Cuomo’s second-term transportation agenda for New York City isn’t closing the $15 billion gap in the MTA capital program or taking serious steps to relieve the city from suffocating traffic. Instead, Cuomo’s big idea is a new rail link to LaGuardia Airport.

The idea captivated the Times and distracted from the meat of Cuomo’s proposals, which mostly involve subsidizing highways and bridges so Thruway tolls don’t go up. But it won’t make it any faster to get to LaGuardia without driving, writes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic.

As difficult as it can be to get to LaGuardia now, Freemark says Cuomo’s AirTrain proposal — which would run along public rights-of-way between the airport and the 7 train at Willets Point — would have longer travel times than existing transit routes from most parts of the city. “As proposed, the project would do next to nothing to improve access to the airport,” he writes.

Freemark’s analysis, which he summarized in the above chart, finds that the Cuomo AirTrain would offer no improvement over current transit service for travelers heading from the airport to Grand Central, Penn Station (except via the LIRR on Mets game days, when trip times would be slightly faster than today), the World Trade Center, Borough Hall/Jay Street, and Jamaica. Travel times to the South Bronx (Yankee Stadium) would be nearly twice as long as existing options. If you happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Willets Point AirTrain connection, then you might save some time.

Freemark writes:

The truth is that the City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have significantly improved bus service to LaGuardia over the past few years, introducing an improved limited-stop service from Woodside and Jackson Heights in 2013 and an improved M60 bus from Manhattan in 2014. These services are still slower than they ought to be, but, when combined with the subways they link to, they’re faster than the AirTrain would be, primarily because Mets-Willets point is not only too far east from the center of the region’s population but also because it is not a major interchange point.

Even if a LaGuardia AirTrain did improve airport access, Freemark argues that it shouldn’t take precedence over under-construction rail projects like the Second Avenue Subway, or unrealized proposals like the Nostrand subway spur and the Triboro-Rx, which would serve many more people but have limited appeal to “the economic and social elite.”

“The fact is that the governor of New York State, like most people in elected office, doesn’t take transit much,” Freemark writes, “and can only envision taking a train in one circumstance: When traveling to and from the airport.”

  • Inspector Spacetime

    If that’s the case then, I’d rather the rare transit dollar go to something already in motion that is expanding capacity.

  • JS

    It needs to be more frequent the 2 tph. Leaving the airport, If it takes 35-40 mins to reach Grand Central, waiting 30 minutes for a train is unacceptable. Going to the airport would require budgeting up to 40 extra minutes, in case you miss the train, since we know how reliable NYCT headways are. Even in traffic you’d be able to get to most destinations in a cab before the train even arrives.

  • ahwr

    If you are just talking about 2 tph, doesn’t the 7 turn at least one local before main st during peak? Wouldn’t give you an express train though. And it means you’d get people at Grand Central or Jackson Heights or wherever sitting around on the platform for ten or twenty minutes with luggage waiting for a train. How well used could the airport link be before that causes crowding problems? Off peak it might mean you’d have to run more trains.

  • ohhleary

    Not all of them are wrong. I regularly use the E/Q70 to LGA from Midtown West and it takes me on average 30-35 minutes. At best, the Airtrain would offer the same travel time from the largest employment center of the city (and would also involve TWO transfers instead of one). That’s unfathomable. It’s not just the travel time alone — it’s the travel time, combined with the price tag, combined with the fact that there are numerous other transit projects in this city far more necessary than this one and far more underfunded.

  • carma

    ive taken the limited bus from 74th roosevelt after getting off the subway to LGA on a few ocassions. frequent headways and it was only a 10 minute trek to the airport. now why would i want to travel all the way out to willets point on the 7 and take an airtrain that has infrequent service and take much longer???

    i like the train idea, but this is stupid.

  • Ian Turner

    They may indeed be mandatory to use. I’m not sure about in NYC, but when they built BART to SFO they simultaneously cut a bunch of bus services, some of which were faster than the new $$$$$$ train.

  • KG18

    So don’t. Other people will use it… Especially leaving midtown on the LIRR

  • KG18

    The transit people don’t want to ware time with it since the best route was already fought down by residents…

  • Bolwerk

    For almost every other transit trip, I agree time-wasting like that is detrimental. But airport users dedicate most of their workday or more to their trips already. They aren’t that time-sensitive. People who really are can just take a taxi.

    Also, there is no “in case you miss the train” unless you don’t budget enough time to get to it on time. Trains don’t randomly leave early.

  • Bolwerk

    Not sure they still(?) do that. The 6 does that.

    Airport demand is limited by airport capacity, and successful airport transit only captures a fraction of it. Probably need to serve a few hundred people an hour tops.

    Well, actually, 2 TPH was practically a courtesy to keep some frequency. Crude calculation: 26,722,183 passengers/year (2013) divided by 365 comes to 73211/day. Assuming 10% use the train (similar to AirTrain JFK), that’s 7321/day. Add in whatever airport support staff uses it, but even then no way that 2 TPH isn’t capacity overkill most of the day. It might be that JS is right about needing more frequency for one reason or another.

    It might also be that it’s just easier to terminate some 7 trains somewhere that isn’t Flushing. Flushing is busy, but it’s not literally filling every train that turns there.

  • Bolwerk

    Whether that was a good idea for them or not, I can’t say, but NYC’s bus routes usually aren’t tampered with much.

    I think in LGA’s case, there is no drawback to continuing to use the airport as a bus terminus. They have to be turned somewhere, and termini usually are best if they don’t contribute a lot of passengers. And airports typically don’t.

  • andrelot

    Bus service to airports is inherently inferior to train services.

    Substituting trains for buses is a good measure even without travel time improvements.

  • ahwr

    An old queens bus map

    http://web.archive.org/web/20000823062228/www.lirr.org/nyct/maps/busqns.pdf

    The current one

    http://web.mta.info/nyct/maps/busqns.pdf

    The PA ran a shuttle bus from Howard beach, and there was a Q10A express from kew gardens to JFK over the van wyck, but I don’t know if it was run often, and I don’t think it was eliminated until a few years after airtrain started. Maybe they’ll get rid of the Q48, and send the Q23 to the airport to replace it. Q70 might get eliminated too. M60 would be very unlikely to be touched.

  • Jonathan R

    The advantage of buses is street-level boarding, which is a blessing for travelers encumbered by bags.

  • ahwr

    Unless you’ve already dragged your bags up or down some stairs to get to the train you need to take to get to the bus.

  • Jonathan R

    Yes, but stairs count at the margin, not overall. Trust me, I push a stroller.

  • Jonathan R

    In the 1980s the Q3 and Q10 went to Kennedy airport, the Q10 took a more direct route from Union Tpke, the Q3 I think from 179th St.

    The Q48 went to LGA along the same route it does now, to Main St, and the Q33 went to LGA from 74th St. I took the Q33 fairly often and remember it as a 20-minute trip. It left from a bus bay behind the IND station building.

  • ahwr

    What’s the advantage of street level boarding? And how does it apply when you need a train to get to the bus?

  • Jonathan R

    Can’t speak for others, but hefting heavy bags up stairs (or down stairs) is one of my least favorite things to do. And hunting for the single elevator on a crowded train platform is right up there as well.

  • Bolwerk

    Going by that, most of the regular JFK transit bus services are still intact. The 6, 7, 3, 10, and 15 are all in more or less the same place. I don’t remember what the Q10A was, but it looks like an express service given its expressway route, and likely had little value to begin with.

    The LGA routes all seem to have low to medium ridership. But that doesn’t mean the airport has much to do with that ridership. Either way, if they’re kept, running them to the airport probably costs less than finding them new termini.

  • Bolwerk

    Shuttle buses with baggage compartments work pretty well for airport service, but transit buses really don’t. Baggage takes up a lot of space on a relatively small, narrow vehicle, and is disruptive to other passengers.

  • Bolwerk

    I think he’s generally right about accessibility. Some people aren’t able-bodied, or some trips are short enough that huffing up subway stays doesn’t lend itself to constructive use of time. Most subways in the city have parallel bus services, and many of them are routes that were originally streetcars.

  • Bill James

    A JPods network, privately funded and operated would be radically faster than the Governor’s train.

  • Bob

    Weiner’s idea in NYDN re: expanding current AirTrain to LGA (over Van Wyck) is actually a pretty darn good idea. That connects everything to LGA: JFK and main LIRR line (including BK line). I’d imagine it would be at least double the price, but seemingly more helpful. What about making the LGA AirTrain station at N stop right next to the GCP – build the AirTrain over the GCP to LGA. More direct

  • AmericanDreamerRedux

    Your comments work better than ambien at putting me to sleep

  • Coffee Partier

    What about smaller footprint VLR (Very Light Rail) type service on the road to the airport? http://www.i3net.com

  • Mister Sterling

    This air train is infuriating. Until we have express trains to airports (as London does for its two biggest airports) we have no right to call ourselves a “world capital.”

  • marks

    I wish this nonsense would go away. All of the New York area airports are bursting at the seams with growing traffic. LaGuardia has set all-time highs for passenger volumes the last three years. Is that suddenly going to evaporate?

  • c2check

    I’m increasingly convinced that excessive NYC patriotism is just blind patriotism for having little solid ideas about what to be proud about.
    (USA #1! / MAKE NYC GREAT AGAIN!)

    There is, of course, lots to be proud about, but it gets buried amongst wall street trading and pretentious fashion. Instead we focus on creating wealth for already rich people, further exacerbating inequality in the city, and by extension nationwide.

  • c2check

    Yes, but for the price tag we could make it much more convenient for many more people.
    Imagine if the subway ran straight there instead?

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