Aug
21

Thoughts on the Port Authority’s airport-related fare increases

By · Published in 2019

The new price point for the LaGuardia AirTrain, shown here in a 2018 rendering, should cause state leaders to consider shelving the project.

Over the years, I’ve come to believe we spend far too much time talking about airports and far too much money building them. Yes, airports are an important piece of the New York economy, and those 67 million tourists we may attract this year have to get to the city somehow. But spending billions on airports — and more importantly, on building redundant means of accessing airports — doesn’t deliver much bang for the buck. The overwhelming number of New Yorkers simply aren’t interacting with airports on a day-to-day basis.

Still, the airports dominate the conversation. Thanks to ongoing construction and a refusal by the city and state to adequately manage traffic, getting to and from Laguardia can take hours these days, and the $2 billion Backwards AirTrain is years away. The Port Authority is also rebuilding Newark and renovating JFK. Unlike other transit projects, though, these dollars aren’t really fungible; revenue generated by airports must be spent on airports. The Port Authority cannot, in other words, shift airport money to other, more worthwhile projects.

Thus, airport projects move forward when other transit needs await funding, and the conversation inevitably turns to airports. At the end of June, the Port Authority, in various budget documents, dropped some airport-related bombshells in the form of a new fare structure for the AirTrains and new taxi and for-hire vehicle drop-off fees. I’ve been mulling over these new dollars and have some thoughts. But first the proposal.

The AirTrain has cost a flat $5 at JFK since 2003 and a similar rate at Newark since 2005. Meanwhile, in 2018, the JFK system saw over 20 million rides, a record, even as service on the driverless trains has been cut, and ridership has increased by six percent per year at Newark as well. Now the Port Authority plans to raise fares to $7.75 a ride starting on November 1. Bulk discounts should still be available, but this 55 percent increase is a steep one. Fares will be tabbed to inflation going forward.

Meanwhile, at some point in 2020, the Port Authority is going to implement taxi and for-hire vehicle pick-up and drop-off charges. Common at “peer” airports in LA, Chicago, San Francisco and DC, these fees allow the PA to generate more revenue for airport improvements. For-hire vehicles — the Ubers and Lyfts of the world — will be subject to a $4 pick-up and $4 drop-off surcharge at each airport, and yellow cabs will be subject to the pick-up surcharge only. Combined with PATH and toll increases, the new fees will generate $235 million in incremental revenue, and the Port Authority says these hikes are necessary due to “record infrastructure investment.” More on that shortly.

Thought #1: It’s going to be expensive to ride the AirTrain

It’s hard to understate how steep this fare hike is, and the AirTrain is going to be expensive — sticker-shock levels of expensive even. For someone connecting to the AirTrain via the subway, the ride will cost over $10, and any lower-cost benefits of the AirTrain are going to start to dissipate. A group of travelers or a family of four eying a transit trip to the airport but facing a price tag of $42 for the trip may just spring for a cab instead. It’s also hard to find any comparable system connecting an airport to a nearby transit hub that charges this month. Paris’ Orlyval, deep into the Parisian suburbs at Orly Airport, features a steep fare to the RER B stop at Antony but a low-cost integrated ticket all the way to Paris’ Zone 1. Nearly all other airtrain systems are free or much lower cost.

More importantly, though, these costs are going up for workers. We talk a lot about tourists when we discuss airport transit, but the workers — the employees who have to go every day — will have to pay steeper fares too. While discount, bulk tickets will still be available, the Port Authority is going to sunset 10-trip bulk purchases in 30 days rather than a year, and it’s not yet clear what that price point will be. Still, employees have pay full freight on airtrain, and these hikes can put this ride out of reach economically for many airport employees. The airtrain is much faster than the bus to JFK, and fare structures should be designed to encourage more efficient trips, especially for workers.

Thought #2: The Port Authority is spending a lot on expensive airport projects.

Along with the fare/fee proposal, the Port Authority released updated budget numbers, and everything just costs so much. The new Newark Airtrain is going to cost over $2 billion; the JFK Redevelopment will cost the Port Authority nearly $3 billion (up from $1 billion); and the Newark Terminal One project has seen its price tag jump by $350 million. While these are projected to be covered by revenue generated by the projects or private sources, the dollars just keep soaring ever upward, and cost containment is barely a part of the conversation.

Thought #3: The taxi/FHV drop-off and pick-up charges incentivize the wrong kind of behavior

In an ideal world, where we fight to keep cars off the road, transit routes to the airport would be fast, cheap and easy to navigate. The second-best option involves high-capacity vehicles that reduce or eliminate the need to use private cars for many trips. This new surcharge, when combined with low long-term parking rates, can be seen to push people toward their own cars instead of taxis. At the least, all cars entering the airports should be charged a drop-off/pick-up fee, and high-speed tolling technology could make this a seamless transaction.

Thought #4: The Laguardia AirTrain should be stopped

You’ll note that I didn’t mention the Backwards AirTrain in Thought #2 because this project deserves its own place on the list (and in the scrap heap of history). Based on new budget projections which add a net $390 million to the project, the Laguardia AirTrain is now projected to cost $2.05 billion. “The revised project cost,” the PA noted, “is informed by the planning efforts and preliminary engineering analysis underway as a result of previously authorized spending by the Board. The increase to the Capital Plan is $390 million, net of $160 million of reduced spending on other Aviation projects. This increase is projected to be covered by multiple sources, including: farebox revenue; airline cost recoveries; and future period [Passenger Facility Charges].”

Why is this project still going forward? It’s a $2 billion boondoggle that’s not expected to generate significant ridership and may be a worse choice than a no-build. It takes riders away from Manhattan to a 7 train that’s already overburdened or an LIRR line that runs once per hour and doesn’t connect through Jamaica. Even with a connection to car rental facilities, it’s a waste of a project and at $2 billion, a huge waste of money. It should be redesigned to serve a higher and better use, either through a connection to Jackson Heights or via Astoria. It’s now just flat-out silly.



Categories : PANYNJ

43 Responses to “Thoughts on the Port Authority’s airport-related fare increases”

  1. Larry Penner says:

    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for increasing tolls on bridges, tunnels, Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) and Air Train fares is just the start for a series of fare increases over coming years. Justification for this latest round is based upon raising $4.8 billion in new revenues. This is to increase the 2017 – 2026 Capital Program from $32.2 to $37 billion to support several ongoing and new capital projects.

    Remember the new Port Authority PATH World Trade Center Station? It had an original start date at 2003 with a completion date of 2009 at a cost of $2 billion. The Port Authority subsequently signed a construction agreement with the Federal Transit Administration. This made up to $2.2 billion in federal funding available for the WTC’s permanent new PATH Terminal. The grant agreement between the Port Authority and FTA was awarded in December 2003. It included a commitment to start construction in 2006 with completion by June, 2011.

    Most construction was completed in 2016, five years beyond the original promised scheduled date. At $4 billion, the cost was double the original $2 billion.

    Governor Cuomo in 2014 estimated the cost would be $450 million for building the LaGuardia Air Train with a completion date of 2019. The original Port Authority 2017 – 2026 capital budget plan lists this project at $1 billion. It was subsequently revised to $1.5 billion several years ago and today is $2 billion. Costs will be further refined as the project progresses through the environmental review process, preliminary and final design, award of construction contracts followed by change orders during construction, due to changes in scope or unforeseen site conditions. The final cost for the Air Train could end up several hundred million to a billion or higher. Four years have passed with little progress. There are no completed environmental documents or any preliminary design and engineering efforts necessary to validate construction costs.

    News that the Port Authority has yet another plan for rebuilding the existing 42nd Street Bus Terminal is disappointing. The Port Authority 2017 – 2026 ten year $32 billion Capital Plan provided only $3.5 billion toward construction of this new facility. How many more years will it take to complete the environmental review process, preliminary along with final design and engineering along with identifying and securing funding for construction?

    It is wishful thinking that the Port Authority can count on $6.5 billion in future federal funding to make up the difference. Don’t be surprised in waiting until the next Port Authority ten year 2027 – 2036 Capital Plan before a complete $10 billion funding package is in place. No one can predict how many more billions or years it might take to complete.

    There is only $70 million for advancing an environmental study along with preliminary design and engineering for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel within the Port Authority 2017 – 2026 Capital Plan. This leaves a $9.930 billion shortfall to complete this project. This project has been championed by some for thirty years. It has yet to progress beyond the federal National Environmental Protection Act review process. No one can predict how many more billions and decades it might take to complete.

    Three years ago, the estimated cost for Gateway Tunnel grew by $3.9 billion from $20 billion to $23.9 billion, Two years ago, the new cost estimate increased another $5.2 billion from $23.9 billion to $29.1 billion.

    Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal has grown from $3.5 billion to $11.2 billion today (plus $600 million more in financing costs). I predict $12 to $13 billion in direct costs when completed. This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget which support implementation of this new service. The promised opening service date has slipped on numerous occasions from 2009 to December 2022. Don’t be surprised if this ends up in 2023 or later.

    How many Port Authority projects will suffer the same cost increases and years or decades of delay like MTA LIRR East Side Access? Anyone want to guess what PA tolls will be to pay for all of the above?. Perhaps Governor Cuomo should worry more about reorganizing the Port Authority rather than MTA.

    (Larry Penner is a transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the United States Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ). .

    • BrightonReader says:

      TL:DR

      Really not going to plough through that verbiage

      Start your own blog if you’re going to write this much.

    • Chester the Dog says:

      That is way too much to read, just like your long winded weekly “letters to the editor” in all the Queens weekly papers, that are just rehashed blather from the weeks before. Get to the point, please.

  2. TimK says:

    It’s hard to understate how steep this fare hike is, and the AirTrain is going to be expensive — sticker-shock levels of expensive even. For someone connecting to the AirTrain via the subway, the ride will cost nearly $10, and any lower-cost benefits of the AirTrain are going to start to dissipate.

    $2.75 + $7.75 = $10.50. I’m not taking MetroCard discounts into account here, obviously, because those can vary depending on how you refill your card, and also because $2.75 is the nominal fare that people are familiar with, and it’s what I expect people will use for comparison.

  3. Patrick says:

    The fare increases are not as impactful as they might seem for anyone who travels frequently or travels eith more than one person. The $25 10-trip cards ($2.50 per trip) are a good option for anyone making more than three trips in a month (for a family of four flying out and back, it works out to $3.13 per trip, which is much less impactful than $7.75). For airport employees, the $40 unlimited MetroCard for the AirTrain JFK is a good deal (less than $1 per trip if you work five days per week), and on the AirTrain EWR, NJT monthly riders travel for free if their ticketed destination is EWR (there is no additional surcharge for monthlies beyond the typical monthly price to North Elizabeth).

    According to the PA’s announcement, the prices for the $25 10-trip card and the $40 monthly are not changing.

  4. Bob says:

    And the 7 train LOCAL to the backwards air train on the weekend? No one will use that…

  5. SomeGuy says:

    It takes riders away from Manhattan to a 7 train that’s already overburdened or an LIRR line that runs once per hour and doesn’t connect through Jamaica.

    Port Washington line runes twice an hour in both directions off-peak… and as of now only stops at Mets-Willets Point on event days..

    At peak times the line is at full capacity (and only some of the trains stop at Mets-Willets Pint on event days) – its at full capacity during this time… many trains are already 12 cars… Most of the trains during this time are already standing room only
    I have no idea how they plan on having service during peak hours (other than running a shuttle to Woodside using the additional currently unused platform at Willets Point).

  6. Duke says:

    It’s worth noting that based on national CPI alone, $5 in 2003 equates to roughly $7 in 2019.
    Meanwhile in 2003 the effective subway fare was $1.67. Today it’s $2.75. If scaled proportionally, the AirTrain would cost $8.23.

    That said, yes, in an ideal world the AirTrain should cost the same as a subway ride, and offer free transfers to subways and buses. If not for jurisdictional turf warring this might be feasible.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      The Port Authority, the MTA and NJtransit don’t care if it was free to the train stations. Senators from the hinterlands, who love to fly to New York so they can give speeches about their stalwart support for the free market, insist on all sorts of regulations that make it nearly impossible for it to be free. At low airfares that are possible because of other regulations they insist on.

    • Eric says:

      AirTrain JFK ridership increased by 292% between 2004 and 2017 (numbers from Wikipedia) even as service levels dropped. Meanwhile, the CPI increased by about 40% (your number) over the same time. Even adjusting for CPI, about 3 times as many fare dollars are being collected now (for less service!). And you’re arguing that they need even more dollars?

  7. flakker says:

    As right as you are about everything here, there is a #5 you are missing- the $2.3B and climbing PATH extension to the EWR station on existing ROW. The only non-airport justification for this is that there will be a South Street stop added in between NWK and EWR (good) and that EWR station currently has no way to get out to street level- which could be fixed at NJT’s expense right now and is an excuse with no legal rationale I have heard of.

    • flakker says:

      Well actually I take that back as it’s not on the plan. In fact the Port Authority has no documents on its website about this proposal since last year? Weird, perhaps they’re trying to bury it. I guess getting an exit to street in Weequahic wasn’t their top concern after all!

  8. Duke says:

    I am not arguing that the PA needs more money – I am only arguing that part of the picture is being missed by focusing purely on this individual fare hike while neglecting that there has effectively been a gradual, continuous fare cut for the past 16 years. And that because of this the per trip cost to ride the AirTrain will not actually be significantly (if at all) higher than it was in 2003.

    It is a fair argument that given ridership increases, purchasing power adjusted gross revenue will be much higher than it was in 2003.

  9. Larry Littlefield says:

    “New budget projections which add a net $390 million to the project, the Laguardia AirTrain is now projected to cost $2.05 billion. “The revised project cost,” the PA noted, “is informed by the planning efforts and preliminary engineering analysis.”

    Anywhere else in the world that $billion — for rail on an elevated structure — gets you to Jamaica, to hook up with the existing system. Especially given the savings of not having a second place to store and maintain the vehicles.

    That’s the crime here. Robbed, robbed, robbed.

    Cut the consultants and design-build the thing to Jamaica!

  10. frank brander says:

    Even closer than the Astoria subway line to LaGuardia Airport is the Amtrak line to Penn Station. I measured the distance via the Grand Central Parkway, new rail line would be less than two miles to the Terminal B. This route avoids residential neighborhoods. This would offer heavy rail service of 10-12 minutes to Penn Station non-stop, with a distance of less than 8 miles via the 4 tubes under the East River. The track to the Hell Gate Bridge is very under used, plus with East Side access to open soon, capacity into Penn Station will be avail. This would be very fast service, even with the time to go through the switches prior to the tunnels and entering Penn Station. Has this ever been considered?

    • AMH says:

      I don’t see any way to tie into this line without taking some property near St Michael’s Cemetery, although this at least would be industrial rather than residential. Another potential problem is building an elevated structure so close to the runway approach path. (map)

      Another route would be via Willets Point. The advantages are the same reasons Cuomo wants to build his Airtrain this way. However, the additional distance doesn’t add much to the total travel time, and a one-seat nonstop ride would be far superior to an Airtrain. (map)

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        The people on packed 10 and 12 car LIRR trains will be realllly reallly annoyed that their train no longer runs so half empty short trains can run to the airport. Or you divert Flushing line trains from Flushing.

        • Phantom says:

          I would expect a huge majority of LGA Airtrain travelers to take the 7 train instead of the LIRR

          Cheaper, more connections, service way more frequent . Unless you have significant luggage, it would be a no brainer for me.

        • frank brander says:

          Agree AMH. Great commentary. I was thinking the elevated structure could skim the cemetery, and I agree with you, the surrounding neighborhood is industrial and therefore should face less community resistance. I am sure the engineers could overcome the clearance issues near the approach to the runway, dipping to grade in the flight path on a cleared right of way by depressing the current roadway to below grade.

          Look at Heathrow, there are non-stop trains to Paddington, Piccadilly Line tube (many stops), and soon Elizabeth Line (Cross Rail, a few stops) to Central London. Airtrain to the 7 IRT makes no sense. NYC needs non-stop service to Penn Station and or Grand Central.

      • Thomas Schmidt says:

        An intriguing thought from your two maps: why not Re-route the port Washington Line fromWillets through LGA and then back to Amtrak tracks into the city. Run half the trains through LGA, and half through Woodside.

        I’ll still ride the Q70 to Roosevelt Avenue Subway, but this would eventually put LGA no more than 15 minutes from GCT and Penn, AND give a connection going East too.

      • frank brander says:

        Agree AMH. Great commentary. I was thinking the elevated structure could skim the cemetery, and I agree with you, the surrounding neighborhood is industrial and therefore should face less community resistance. I am sure the engineers could overcome the clearance issues near the approach to the runway, dipping to grade in the flight path on a cleared right of way by depressing the current roadway to below grade.

        Look at Heathrow, there are non-stop trains to Paddington, Piccadilly Line tube (many stops), and soon Elizabeth Line (Cross Rail, a few stops) to Central London. Airtrain to the 7 IRT makes no sense. NYC needs non-stop service to Penn Station and or Grand Central.

  11. frank brander says:

    Or even better after East Side Access is open, the service could be to Grand Central Station.

  12. Chris says:

    I think the LGA Airtrain as currently designed should never be built. Instead, it would make more sense to build an elevated Airtrain line from Woodside over city streets to LGA. But that would increase all the negatives without major benefit. Instead, a good compromise would be to build the Airtrain to LGA from Jamaica, so that people can get between the two airports easily. (I’m thinking of the people who use the LIRR from LI to get to the airports.) Jamaica becomes a much more important rail hub, and no one needs to use the subway system to get to the Airtrain from any of the MTA connected suburbs.

  13. Chet says:

    Can someone answer this question:

    Forgetting the insane NIMBYism that prevents it from happening, but about how much would it cost to extend N/W line the 3 miles from Ditmars Blvd to LGA? Being an elevated line, I imagine a lot less than a tunneled subway.

    • BruceNY says:

      NIMBYism thwarted an attempt to extend the Astoria Line during the previous Cuomo (Mario) administration. I wonder if they would encounter the same opposition today? Ironically, the Airtrain to JFK is a good example of how much quieter a modern elevated railway can be vs. 19th Century style steel girders.

  14. Larry Littlefield says:

    The question is, will they eliminate the buses?

    I think deep down, the goal is to make it more expensive to get to the airport.

    • SEAN says:

      If that is the goal, then increase the parking fees five fold & that way the PA would have billions to spend based on the majority of customers.

  15. The Hunkster says:

    The Pork Authority is as corrupt as the Money Thrown Authority of course.

  16. JJJ says:

    Will be interesting to see if ridership is impacted.

    Newark Airtrain competes with a direct bus into the city. With the price hike, fares will be close to even.

    It will also make more sense than ever to take NJT bus 62 from the terminal to Newark Penn for $1.60. Runs 24/7 and is very frequent. Even has luggage racks. Why spend $7 for a monorail ride?

    • AMH says:

      I will definitely try that bus.

    • Thomas Schmidt says:

      Because monorails don’t get stuck in traffic? The EWRmonorail is too slow, however, to make it worthwhile, especially for Terminal A. I once nearly missed a flight riding that pokey monorail from the train; it hits terminals in CBA order, and the bus goes ABC.

      Contrast SFO, with two monorails that can either be used to get to BART.

      Of course, since Midtown is usually my destination, the fastest route from LGA if they build the wrong-way monorail will remain the Q70, which generally gets to The subway and LIRR Woodside in under 15 minutes, with the F train taking about 15 minutes to Bryant Park.

      Rerouting the Port Washington Line through LGA, which I had never thought of before reading this thread (thanks Ben and commenters) makes a tremendous amount of sense.

  17. Robby says:

    This is such an opinion piece on what is normally an informative website.

    The points of ingress/egress to a city are crucial. I love living NY with a passion, but it is a pain to leave, except out of Grand Central. Most NYers don’t drive cars. $100 for a taxi to get to a flight is absurd; 1.5 hours by train is ridiculous. Go to any international city (London, Singapore, Tokyo, Amsterdam, hell even domestically Seattle, Boston, Denver, DC, San Fran, Chicago), where the airports are a quick and easy train ride to the center of town.

    Don’t even get me started on the Amtrak and the flaming turd that is Penn Station.

  18. Chris says:

    Regarding the Airtrain….

    Why not build it in a way that it can be modified to support local, non airport related mass transit at a later date? Hide the modification options in the design spec, and build with these options for future administrations to consider. Heck, laws can be changed in the future, and exceptions can be made to adapt existing infrastructure for new uses..

    I’d consider a new transit link from NYP to GCT, with links to all 3 major airports – a major multi-billion boondoggle if I could design one. Suck the money out of the air transit only funds to build the boondoggle project, and then say “oops!” before repurposing everything as combined ground and air related transit to recoup “losses”.

    Yes, I know that this idea will never fly. (no pun intended.) But it would make more sense to run the airtrain from Jamaica to both NYC airports, and keep people off the #7 line. Also, the MTA should extend the Astoria line to LGA – and screw the PA out of any money they’d charge for an overpriced, ill conceived connection to the airport. Build convenient, inexpensive, quick and safe mass transit to all transit hubs (airports, commuter train stations, etc.) and people will flock to use it. That’s something that New York state and city has long forgotten….

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>