Built and developed on the eve of mid-century car mania, New York City’s airports are notoriously inaccessible.
Travelers choose between two unpleasant fates: an expensive cab that idles in crippling congestion, or a tortured trip of transfers on buses or trains.
While more than 1.5 million people pass through regional airports this Thanksgiving season, Public Advocate Letitia James will be calling on city and state agencies for permanent mass transit improvements to LaGuardia and Kennedy airports as a means to create more equitable and reliable travel options while also reducing the number of cars on the city’s streets and highways.
James argues that relatively small-scale projects, like more Select Bus Service and increased train capacity to the airports, could accomplish this and has outlined a four-point proposal to do so in a new policy report to be released Wednesday.
“Many New York City neighborhoods lack convenient mass transit links to the two airports — JFK and LaGuardia,” James said. “And I think it’s critically important to look at the city and Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve transit access without spending billions and billions of dollars.”
In the MTA subway system, the report recommends rerouting every A train to the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue station in order for better service to the JFK AirTrain at Howard Beach. Currently, the A train service splits at the Rockaway Boulevard station, with half of all trains on the line heading to Ozone Park, while the other half terminate at Far Rockaway.
The change would cut wait times, which can be as long as 24 minutes on Sunday mornings, in half, according to the report. If Ozone Park riders overwhelmingly object to the service switch, the report suggests only implementing the rerouting on weekends during heightened air travel.
The report also revives an idea for the MTA to extend the No. 3 train in Brooklyn with an additional station at Linden Boulevard. This would provide a more streamlined connection to the B15 bus heading to the airport. The new station would take advantage of an additional half-mile of track that extends beyond the New Lots Avenue station to send trains to the nearby Livonia Train Yard.
“In addition to extending the subway system at relatively low cost,” the report reads, “this would also allow for an express bus service to serve the entire Linden Boulevard corridor, providing fast service to the airport, while still connecting to the 3 train.”
On the streets, James champions more dedicated lanes for the M60 to make for a better schlep to LaGuardia. Plus, all city buses heading to JFK should stop at each of the six separate airline terminals, the report says.
James also picks up the torch from groups like the Riders Alliance and the Global Gateway Alliance in advocating for making the LaGuardia Link (the Q70) a free shuttle to the airport. But even though 85% of Link riders already benefit from a free transfer from the subway, the report reasons that a free shuttle might entice more travelers to pay for a subway to the service, generating more revenue for the MTA.
The city Department of Transportation said it was open to sitting down with the MTA to work on bringing more SBS service to airport bus routes.
The MTA, though, has several concerns with the report’s proposals. On the A train, the MTA argues that current service is the best fit for riders. Looking at each stop, the three Ozone Park-bound stations have the same combined ridership as the 10 Far Rockaway-bound stations.
Regarding the No. 3 train, Kevin Ortiz, an MTA spokesman, said the agency, generally, explores expanding the system in order meet ridership demands — assuming capital funds are available. In a statement, he noted the recent steps the agency has taken to improve airport transit.
“The MTA is committed to helping New Yorkers get where they need to go in a fast, cost effective way — and that includes access to our region’s airports,” said Ortiz in a statement. “That’s why we’ve introduced the LaGuardia Link. That’s why we have the M60 SBS and various connections that get customers to our airports.”
Public Advocate Leititia James’ four-point proposal:
1. Prioritize bus access on airport grounds and at the curb.
2. Eliminate the fare on the LaGuardia Link.
3. Enhance the M60 Select Bus Service and the LaGuardia Link with exclusive lanes.
4. Help airport employees by improving service on the B15 and the Q10 to JFK.