Home Buses Riders Alliance calls upon MTA to eliminate Q70 fare to improve transit to LGA

Riders Alliance calls upon MTA to eliminate Q70 fare to improve transit to LGA

by Benjamin Kabak

To better serve LaGuardia, the Riders Alliance has proposed eliminating the fare on the Q70 and rebranding the bus as a shuttle to the airport. (Image courtesy of the Riders Alliance)

To better serve LaGuardia, the Riders Alliance has proposed eliminating the fare on the Q70 and rebranding the bus as a shuttle to the airport. (Image courtesy of the Riders Alliance)

When it comes to creative measures aimed at growing ridership while encouraging car-free attitudes in New York City, the MTA hasn’t moved much beyond the Unlimited MetroCard and the so-called one-fare zone. It’s been nearly 20 years since the MTA introduced the MetroCard transfer, and while ridership has skyrocketed since then, the agency hasn’t experimented much with fare policies. Outside of the express buses, New York City Transit’s buses cost the same as a subway ride, and every subway ride costs the same. It’s easy, but it’s also lazy.

The Riders Alliance — with an eye toward an easy upgrade — wants to begin to push back on this idea. In a report released today, the advocacy group (of which I sit on the board) called up on the MTA to eliminate the fare on the Q70, thus making the bus ride between LaGuardia Airport and Jackson Heights or Woodside free. The group contends that the MTA wouldn’t lose money with the move — and based on a modest projected growth in ridership, could possible capture more revenue from those going to and from the airport. Additionally, the group has called upon the MTA to better brand the Q70 as specifically for airport travelers while increasing reliability and upgrading service. The ideas are new-to-New York but hardly revolutionary and deserve more than just a cursory glance.

“Transit access to LaGuardia shouldn’t be New York’s best-kept secret,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said. “It should be intuitive and simple. Turning the Q70 into a free LaGuardia subway shuttle is a cost-effective improvement that could revolutionize how New Yorkers get to the airport. It’s not a billion-dollar project; it’s a free project with billion-dollar returns.”

Raskin is of course referring to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s multi-billion-dollar plan to build a poorly-routed LaGuardia AirTrain. The Riders Alliance feels their bus proposal would alleviate the need for an AirTrain in the short term, but it’s not just about finding a better way to build a more direct and cost-efficient AirTrain. It’s about providing a better transit solution for LaGuardia-bound travelers overall.

The crux of the report rests on the fact that 90 percent of the Q70 ridership is already transferring to or from the subway (85%) or LIRR (5%), and thus, the MTA has already captured that revenue. In essence, nearly all riders are already riding the Q70 for free, but everyone pays in dwell time, a major criticism for Q70 ridership. (In fact, if anything, eliminate the fare just to cut dwell times on the Q70 would be well worth it.) Were the bus to be free, the Riders Alliance contends, even an increase in transit usage by just one percent of all LaGuardia Airport travelers would cancel out the free bus and in fact make the MTA money. Whether the subways could fit another 200,000 passengers is another question.

But this isn’t just about making the bus free to increase ridership in the short term. While some are skeptical of initiatives that seem like a short-term move designed to get more people on transit (rather than on implementing changes that lead New Yorkers to choose a car-free, transit-heavy lifestyle), the Riders Alliance report takes a longer view as well. The group has called upon the MTA to run the Q70 with headways no longer than 10 minutes while providing either a dedicated lane for the bus or allowing drivers to optimize their route based on current traffic conditions. Doing so should make the free bus not just the easy choice in the short term but the right choice in the long term as well.

Additionally, the report notes that current Q70 service isn’t particularly well-suited to appeal to LaGuardia riders. In addition to inconsistent headways and routing that suffers from the whims of surface traffic, signage doesn’t encourage use. The buses do not include information regarding departure terminals and signage at the airport can’t even get the fares right. MetroCards aren’t available for purchase at the bus stop, and those unfamiliar with the New York City bus network wouldn’t easily determine that the Q70 provides a quick connection to the subway. The bus is, in fact, labeled as a bus to Queens rather than a bus to the subway or the LIRR, and neither the MTA nor the Port Authority have signage that clearly indicates what this bus does. In fact, a quarter of airport travelers surveyed said they didn’t know and couldn’t tell that the Q70 was more a shuttle to transit rather than a local bus through Queens.

To that end, the Riders Alliance have proposed rebranding the bus so that it’s clear where this bus goes and how it goes there. Without a fare and with more frequent service and better advertising, the bus can be a key link to the airport rather than something those in the know take out of convenience. It’s a new idea for New York City but hardly one so radical that it can’t work. As Joe Sitt, head of the Global Gateway Alliance, said, “A clearly branded, free airport subway shuttle is a low cost solution that would provide LaGuardia’s 27 million passengers with a 21st century access link, and with plans to modernize LaGuardia underway, the time to act is now.”

For its part, though, the MTA threw cold water on the plan. Transit spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the agency “wholeheartedly disagree[s] with the premise that this could all be done at no cost to the MTA. First of all, one-fourth of riders do not come from the subway and don’t use the free transfer, and thus we would lose money on one out of every four customers under their plan. If ridership would continue to grow on the route to the level they claim, we would have to add service, and that costs money. And where would we find the buses? Also, what’s to say that all this would do is shift a portion of riders from the M60 to Q70? At the end of the day, there is simply zero evidence that making it a free shuttle would increase ridership on subways to the point it would make the shuttle self-sustaining.”

Is this is simply a case of “we-didn’t-invent-it”-itis that plagues New York City, legitimate pushback or a combination of the two? Either way, this is a plan whose feasibility is worth pursuing.

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Bolwerk November 23, 2015 - 12:22 pm

I got no problem with the proposal, but this passes for a big news item?

If it happens, the Joe Biden-alluding NY Post headline could be: “Free third world transit option to third world airport.” In rare form for a Murdoch rag, it might not even that far off.

Chris November 23, 2015 - 1:20 pm

Okay, fine. If this solution is too unwieldy for the MTA to wrap its head around, here’s a simpler improvement to reduce dwell times: SBS machines at the Q70’s two other stops. You already have SBS infrastructure in place at LGA because of the M60, you reduce dwell times significantly, and you keep that oh-so-precious revenue in place.

Brian Howald November 23, 2015 - 1:34 pm

The headline should probably read: “Riders Alliance calls upon MTA to eliminate Q70 FARE to improve transit to LGA”

Andrew November 23, 2015 - 1:34 pm

Yes, I was similarly startled when I happened upon this post!

Michael November 23, 2015 - 1:38 pm

It just seems to me to be very simple or at least less costly to do the following:

a) Change the signage and marketing of the Q70 Bus so that more folks know about the bus and its connections to the NYC subway and LIRR, the time savings of the trip, etc.

b) Change the signage inside the buses to include information regarding departure terminals, and other useful travel relation information.

c) Create a less complicated bus map just for the several subway and bus connections to/from La Guardia Airport – rather relying upon the larger difficult to read Queens Bus Map.

The Queens Subway Map shows the Q48, M60, Q70, Q72 Buses all go to and through La Guardia Airport, I don’t know why but I could have sworn that I took a Q33 to La Guardia Airport from the Roosevelt Avenue station years ago! Such information brochures could easily be placed at the various information counters and displays in the airport.

It just seems to me that the following is more costly or difficult:

a) Getting the MTA to install MetroCard vending machines in places that the MTA does not control. (At the same time – many transit folks here are clamoring for the MTA to do away with the MetroCard for “something better”!)

Instead – the MTA could simply make sure that vendors within LaGuardia Airport sell Metro-Cards, and there’s signage that indicates that.

b) Increasing the frequency of the bus may or may not be costly to the MTA or difficult – in either case it is a heck of a lot easier to do so, when there’s ridership statistics present to make the case. The transfers and fares via the MetroCard supplies those statistics in a consistent way.

It is really much harder to make the case for improved service when one is basically left with the statement, “Yes – lots of people ride the bus, but we don’t have the numbers because there’s no fares charged or money in the till, but the buses are often crowded. But yeah, we really need more service.”


I simply do not see a reason to make the Q70 Bus “free” – even if many of the riders are transferring from the subways or other buses. Making improvements to the Q70 Bus as suggested does not require that the bus be made free. Making the improvements listed above is a worth-while goal or activity.


Tom November 23, 2015 - 1:52 pm

The old Q33 was split into two routes a few years ago. The new Q33 drops LGA, and a new route, the Q70, runs non-stop to LGA.

DF November 23, 2015 - 1:43 pm

The crux of the report rests on the fact that 90 percent of the Q70 ridership is already transferring to or from the subway (85%) or LIRR (5%), and thus, the MTA has already captured that revenue. In essence, nearly all riders are already riding the Q70 for free,

It probably does not change the calculus by much, but the 5% who are transferring to/from LIRR are not AFAICT essentially riding for free (and the report itself does not claim they are), and of the 85% surely at least some (not many) are on bus-subway-bus rides where revenue would be lost. (On the other hand, many of the 10% are no doubt weekly/monthly passholders who would have their passes regardless of the status of the Q70 and so are also in a sense riding for free.)

Alon Levy November 23, 2015 - 9:00 pm

The fact that bus-subway-bus and bus-LIRR transfers are not free should be grounds for firing whoever came up with the brilliant idea of charging passengers for transfers.

adirondacker12800 November 24, 2015 - 12:02 am

The people who came up with the idea, such as it is, have been dead for a long time. When you got off the PRR operating as the LIRR train and got on the privately operated bus you had to pay an additional fare. Since you are going farther, why shouldn’t you pay more? Systems all over the world have zoned fares.

Bolwerk November 24, 2015 - 9:18 am

He’s talking about transfers when people don’t necessarily go further. You can do bus-subway-bus and consume fewer resources. in terms of passenger-km or energy or applied overhead, than someone who just takes a really long bus ride, yet you could end up paying more.

Alon Levy November 24, 2015 - 8:44 pm

“In New York, behold our marvel, you can go from the Bronx to Coney Island on one subway fare!”

“What about connecting from Coop City buses to the subway to Utica buses?”

“People who ride longer should expect to pay more!”

Bolwerk November 25, 2015 - 11:23 am

It can be worse than that. I sometimes catch a bus outside my apartment if it happens to be there. It takes me the 3 blocks to the subway.

I have to remind myself not to do that when I plan to use a bus on the other end of the subway trip (usually the M15 SBS).

Alon Levy November 25, 2015 - 3:02 pm

In related news, there exist some unlimited monthly card users who get 100 rides a month. Clearly, they’re all just passing the card between their friends and should be charged extra. They’re not connecting bus-subway-bus, nobody would ever do that, right?

Bolwerk November 25, 2015 - 6:33 pm

Been there too. Used to do at least 3 regular swipes per weekday, which would have been four those days that bus came, and probably managed at least a round trip most weekend days too. Usually I had incidental errands too. Sometimes I’d meet my girlfriend on the way home and hand the card over the turnstile so she could ride with me. Definitely counted 80 swipes one month before I lost count sometime around three weeks in, so I may have actually hit 100 sometimes. I’m such a demon.

DF November 24, 2015 - 10:32 am

I have this image now of an MTA employee going to the cemetery, digging up the decomposed corpse of some guy who was an executive at Triboro Coach in 1940, and telling the skeleton that he/it is being fired for not having entered into a free-transfer agreement with the LIRR seventy-five years ago.

Ralfff November 23, 2015 - 1:50 pm

It’s a great idea and should be implemented immediately, along with the above idea for adding an SBS machine to the airport.

Having come from Staten Island to LGA by transit, I seriously doubt there will be any appreciable loss of riders to the M60. Airport employees already likely have unlimited cards, and I choose the M60 over the Q70 because it is faster, period. When it comes to airports I doubt even relatively poor air travelers who can use either are going to make a decision based on this kind of one-off cost. It would definitely expand bus ridership from its current red-headed stepchild status.

Tom November 23, 2015 - 2:00 pm

I suspect many people who pay a fare to ride the LGA-bound Q70 (as opposed to using a transfer or pass) are coming from the LIRR at Woodside. It is these fares the MTA doesn’t want to lose.

One solution would be to charge a fare (to board or exit) at Woodside only. That way, LIRR people would continue paying a fare (in each direction) while subway people wouldn’t (in either direction). And the run between 74th and LGA would be faster.

Chris November 23, 2015 - 2:15 pm

I’ve lived in NYC for 12 years. I had no idea that the Q70 went to the airport; I’ve always tried to (with an endless degree of frustration) wiggle my way to the M60 or avoid LGA. I took the Q70 for the first time last month (changing from the Port Washington Line on the LIRR @ Woodside); it was surprisingly seamless. The MTA should just do this and advertise it; I’d bet they actually get more LIRR transfers (good, fewer people on the road) + more subway transfers from Queens/BK (also good, already paid, too.)

Tom November 23, 2015 - 2:21 pm

If the MTA wants to increase fare revenue, they might tighten their transfer rules which, today, often permit a brief round trip for a single fare.

One example is going downtown on 2nd Avenue (on the M15) and returning via 3rd Avenue (on the M101, M102, or M103). If you board your return bus within 2 hours (or is it 2:18??) of your first boarding, your return trip is treated as a free transfer, even though it is in the reverse direction on the adjacent street.

Another example allows single-fare round trip subway rides to Bloomingdales. If, say you live at Union Square and take the Lex subway to 59th, spend 90 minutes shopping, and then re-enter the subway at 59th & Lex, you aren’t charged a second fare; instead you are granted a free subway-to-subway transfer.

While this was designed to permit free connections between the 4-5-6 and the F train, it can be abused.

I suggest the situation be rectified by installing special turnstiles to be used only by people making this transfer. You would swipe your MetroCard when leaving the subway to exit (if you intend to transfer).

This swipe wouldn’t charge a fare, but would instead encode a special subway transfer good for 15 minutes and only at the “other” subway station. People swiping out at the 4-5-6-N-R-Q station would get a transfer only good at the F station and vice versa.

People who aren’t transferring and people transferring but using weekly or monthly passes would exit via regular turnstiles, just like today.

Rob November 23, 2015 - 3:02 pm

I wonder how much money this is really worth to make changes (especially installing special turnstiles). Perhaps people take advantage of this “loophole” occasionally, but I doubt most people do it daily. Most who would have occasion to always take the M15 downtown probably work there, and I would hope that would be longer than a couple of hours. Likewise, I don’t know many people who can regularly afford to shop at Bloomingdale’s and if they can, I doubt they have that fare loophole in mind. Beyond that, people who would use it regularly would probably have a weekly or monthly, which would make it a moot point. I don’t doubt that a few fares here and there are lost to these loopholes, but closing them might be more trouble than it’s worth and lead to unintended consequences of eliminating legitimate transfers.

Tom November 23, 2015 - 2:24 pm

The Q70 has been running for more than 2 years now, and The Port Authority still doesn’t mention it on its airport map.


bigbellymon4 November 23, 2015 - 8:35 pm

It is there as LTD, But they forgot to put Q70 before the LTD.

Rob November 23, 2015 - 2:41 pm

“nearly all riders are already riding the Q70 for free, but everyone pays in dwell time” so it should be free. Why wouldn’t the same logic also apply at many subway stations/terminals [e.g. 169 St, 179 St Jamaica] where much of the ridership is bus transfers?

Andrew November 24, 2015 - 12:08 am

Yes, there are many bus lines that serve in part if not primarily as subway feeders. Suspending fare collection on this one bus line opens up a huge Pandora’s box – which other bus lines should get the same treatment, and what are the revenue implications of this policy being adopted on every bus line citywide that has a large percentage of transfers to the subway?

BrooklynBus November 25, 2015 - 10:50 am

I agree with you on this and that is probably more of a reason why they rejected it than the money it would cost.

Andrew November 26, 2015 - 8:38 pm

I agree with you on this


pete November 23, 2015 - 4:39 pm

I routinely do F-Q70-M60 to goto Astoria if I happen to have unlimited. The only use of the airport for me is a no hassle 24/7 bathroom stop. With the free LGA bus, I could do F-Free Q70-M60 with a PPR MC vs transferring in Manhattan to the N.

Peter L November 23, 2015 - 6:50 pm

Assuming that the image is fake and the MTA doesn’t already have distinctively-branded buses (which all fleet managers Hate), then you know how this goes, right? You give in on the fares and settle for the promotional stuff.

And there are no TVMs at the airport stops? Really? That seems … what’s the term … stupid?

Peter L November 23, 2015 - 6:55 pm

Here’s something the MTA should like – Montreal charges $10 for their airport bus! The secret for regular people is that they also take most of the passes available on their smart-card fare media.


Andrew November 24, 2015 - 12:10 am


(Or have they been removed?)

MetroCards are also sold at newsstands.

BrooklynBus November 27, 2015 - 5:06 pm

But without signage, an out of towner would never know.

Maggie November 23, 2015 - 8:53 pm

This idea makes perfect sense. It’s so emblematic of the MTA that they shoot the idea down in minutes as something unworkable. Lets keep building that new $4 billion marble oyster bar / Tumi shop / airport with Monopoly money.

– how does the Rider’s Alliance figure that 85% of the Q70 riders are transferring to the subway, and the MTA spokesman says it’s 75%?

– how can a planner look at a dismal stat like 12.5% of La Guardia users arrive by transit, and not immediately begin looking for cost-effective ways to shift more people there by transit?

ajedrez November 26, 2015 - 1:23 am

I think Riders’ Alliance was doing it off a survey of 500 (?) people while the MTA was going off their official stats.

Peter L November 28, 2015 - 6:02 pm

“12.5% of La Guardia users” – what does that mean? Does that mean people who work at the airport? Travelers? Both?

Andrew November 24, 2015 - 12:31 am

The bus signage at LaGuardia has been abysmal for decades – I think I first encountered it in 1996 when I was looking for the M60, and it was no better then than it is now. No question that there should be prominent information posted about the bus options, with maps to help people to decide which bus to take and clear wayfinding toward (and at) the bus stops.

And the Port Authority should also make it much easier to buy a MetroCard – with multiple vending machines in each terminal and with a clear poster detailing the fare options.

But eliminating the fare is an unwise move. I’ve already pointed out the Pandora’s box it would open. But the assumptions in the report are also questionable. Most notable, perhaps, is the dual assumption that a free bus would somehow attract so many additional riders that their subway swipes would more than offset the lost fare revenues on the bus, yet (this bit goes completely unstated) all of those new subway riders could be accommodated without an increase in service.

The report also recommends running the Q70 on a 10 minute headway, even when loading doesn’t warrant a 10 minute headway. Again, this opens a Pandora’s box. NYCT and MTA Bus have systemwide policy headways, but they’re much greater than 10 minutes. And while I’d love to see 10 minutes adopted as a systemwide policy headway, the costs would be truly massive.

Although I don’t see the Q70 as a high priority for SBS conversion – it doesn’t have enough intermediate stops to make long dwells a major concern – it would be a very cheap conversion, since the LGA stops already have fare machines (for the M60), which leaves only two stops to equip with machines. This should make it easier to implement SBS on lines operated by MTA Bus (if I’m interpreting the “Actions” section correctly, it was signed into law a few days ago).

Bolwerk November 24, 2015 - 10:01 am

I don’t really see the Pandora’s box. Most people probably don’t even notice when they’re not treated equitably, and the few who do can rarely control the conversation for very long. I also don’t see why a free bus would be that much more attractive. This is a group of riders already spending probably triple digits just to fly, so they aren’t likely to be so price-sensitive as to need to avoid a ≤$2.75 fare. Many of them will eschew transit because they have luggage. They aren’t hugely time sensitive because they know when their flight is days or weeks in advance. .

I bet there is never any meaningful downside to SBS conversion, so if it happens, great. (Maybe there is a downside in a case, like Woodhaven, when the bus conversion is approaching light rail prices?)

I’d be interested to see this tried, but I don’t see anything super-cool or forward-thinking about this. If it works, great. A few thousand people might be helped. I’d much rather see an experiment like this performed on New Yorkers who are struggling to get to work on time instead of tourists, jet setters, and students whose parents are paying for them to fly back home to Ohio for the weekend.

BrooklynBus November 27, 2015 - 5:11 pm

There are many downsides to SBS conversion, namely the millions of dollars in additional annual operating costs, not to mention the ramifications for other traffic. And Woodhaven isn’t SBS. It’s BRT despite NYCDOT using the terms interchangeably to intentionally confuse.

pete November 24, 2015 - 6:46 pm

Fare increases on the PA’s bus signs at LGA are done by the public with sharpies. The sign from the factory still says $2.25 is the bus fare.

Larry Littlefield November 24, 2015 - 12:24 pm

I just got back from a trip in which I took the Q70 both ways. People have discovered it. But the MTA hasn’t discovered that people have discovered it.

The headway is 15 minutes, and overcrowding causes delays. You have to take the second bus, which has often caught up to the first bus, if you don’t manage to crush-load on the first bus. And I mean crush-load.

This morning I saw two-three Q72s, 2-3 Q48s, and definitely three M60s before the first Q70 arrived.

That ride says “serf.” Were it not for the fact that EVERYBODY got a free transfer or had an unlimited ride card, I’d say the MTA was squeezing out profits to help pay for continued featherbedding, corruption and pension spiking on the LIRR.

Larry Littlefield November 24, 2015 - 12:26 pm

Oh, and by the way, I say MANY, MANY rental car vans go by — from each company — while waiting for the Q70.

adirondacker12800 November 24, 2015 - 2:21 pm

one of the many reasons why big airports have people movers, like JFK and EWR, the people who want shuttle buses have to go to a remote station. Where there is plenty of space for the shuttle bus to idle while they unload and load.

Andrew November 26, 2015 - 8:46 pm

Dare I suggest that two trips might not be enough to draw that conclusion?

(I rode the Q70 twice last month and half the seats were empty both times – but I’m not going to use my sample size of 2 to draw any broad conclusions.)

If there was a 15 minute wait for the first bus and the second bus was right behind it, as you describe, then you weren’t seeing a 15 minute headway – you were seeing a delayed bus with its follower bunched up behind it. Obviously, the first bus in such a case will be carrying a heavier-than-usual load. http://setosa.io/bus/

Bill C November 24, 2015 - 2:35 pm

I recently started working out of a project office that is located one block from the LIRR / #7 Woodside station, which apparently is a major transit hub. The MTA must want to keep the Q70 bus to LGA one of the best kept secrets in NY. Signs on the street and station are practically non-existent. The bus stop sign is hidden between two support stanchions and the stop is a little bit seedy. The LIRR message boards only say “transfer to subway”; there is no mention of the bus to the airport. Half of the time, it looks like the bus is empty.

The handful of times I have flown, I have used the LIRR/Airtrain connection to JFK. I never knew the Q70/LGA connection existed. Some promotion here would be nice, rather than spending a few hundred million dollars for a dubious LGA/Airtrain connection.

Larry Littlefield November 24, 2015 - 3:13 pm

“Half of the time, it looks like the bus is empty.”

It fills at 74th and Roosevelt. If you are on the subway rather than the LIRR, that’s where it makes sense to go.

“The LIRR message boards only say “transfer to subway”

That’s a problem. Than again, my experience is there is no more room on that bus.

pete November 24, 2015 - 6:49 pm

The promotion is a bunch of Weekend Work style posters advertising the Q70 plastered all over the Queens Blvd Line. I would say the communications were effective. Subway map also points out the Q70.

rustonite November 24, 2015 - 2:52 pm

Filed under, things Boston already does.


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