Improving Mass Transit to NYC Airports Can’t Come Soon Enough

Aug 2, 2014

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The question of improving New York City’s public transportation options to the city’s three major airports came up  at a recent MTA Reinvention Commission meeting. We put TPG Contributor Adee Braun on the case to see how New York’s airport transportation stacks up to other major international cities. She also provides you with everything you need to know to get to and from LGA, JFK and EWR.

During a recent public MTA Reinvention Commission meeting, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald, cast a critical eye on infrastructure and transportation options to New York City’s major international airports.

“We need an AirTrain that goes to LaGuardia,” said McDonald. “And do we have dedicated lanes that go to LaGuardia and JFK? People are willing to pay for that. And we just have to personally—I think we have to bite the bullet and move on. But I don’t make all those decisions. Just that one little caveat at the end.”

Commuters at the airport.
Commuters at the airport

LaGuardia is the only one of the metro area’s three major airports that does not have AirTrain, a convenient monorail that connects the terminals to parking, public transportation and the city center. New York’s airports are connected to a web of transportation options. Sorting through them all can be daunting and confusing, especially when compared to many international cities that make getting to the airport by train a cinch. So, how do New York’s airport transportation options stack up?

LaGuardia Airport (LGA): The smallest and closest, just eight miles from Midtown Manhattan in Queens. With no subways to the airport, you’re best bet is usually connecting to a public bus and hoping that there’s no traffic.

Public transport

The M60 Bus to LaGuardia Airport costs the same as a subway ride

As of this past May, the M60 Bus began running “Select” service to LaGuardia, which means that the trip from Upper Manhattan got a little faster (by 10-15%). The subway does not go to the airport, but the bus does connect to 12 subway lines (with a free transfer). The journey takes 30-45 minutes and costs $2.50 with a MetroCard, which can be purchased at each terminal.

Taxis, Car Services & Shuttles

Metered taxi cabs can be picked up from any terminal. It’s a half hour ride to Midtown (depending on traffic), $25-$37 without tips or tolls. Many car services offer scheduled pickups including Carmel and and Dial 7: $30 and $34 respectively.

The NYC Airporter shuttle bus runs to Manhattan, takes 30-45 minutes and runs every 30 minutes to the city’s main transport hubs and connects to all three airports. $13 one-way. Other shuttle services (small vans) range in price, including SuperShuttle and GO Airport Shuttle. Tickets can be purchased online or at the terminal. Uber cars cost $36-46, including tips but not tolls.

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Located about 15 miles from Manhattan in Queens, the airport is fairly well connected by public transport to the AirTrain.

Public Transport

JKF AirTrain
The JFK AirTrain is a clean and efficient monorail that connects to terminals, parking and transportation

The AirTrain JFK  connects to the commuter rail (LIRR) and the subway: the E at Jamaica Station goes to Midtown (50 minutes) and the A at the Howard Beach Station goes farther south (60 minutes). No tickets are required for the AirTrain, simply purchase a Metrocard once you get to the subway station. It’s $7.50 ($5.00 for the AirTrain and $2.50 for a single subway ride), and there’s a $1 fee for purchasing a new MetroCard.

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) runs frequently to Penn Station. It takes about half an hour and costs $15.50 which includes the AirTrain fee.

Taxis, Car Services & Shuttles

Taxis to Manhattan cost a flat rate of $52 excluding tolls and tips and takes 30-60 minutes. The NYC Airporter shuttle runs every half hour and takes about 60-90 minutes to Penn Station, $16 one-way. Car services cost $44 (Carmel) to $48 (Dial 7). Uber flat rates start at $65.

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR): Located 15 miles from Manhattan in New Jersey, it is not connected to the NYC subway system, but rather by fairly reliable train service which gets you to the AirTrain.

Public Transport

With no subways servicing Newark Airport, New Jersey Transit offers a convenient connection to Manhattan

AirTrain Newark (which recently completed renovations) connects all terminals to parking and rail in about 10 minutes. NJ Transit trains take about half an hour to New York’s Penn Station (confusingly, there’s also a Newark, NJ Penn Station), running 6 times an hour on weekdays. Tickets can be purchased at the AirTrain terminal, $12.50 one-way includes the AirTrain ride. NJ Transit buses also run frequently to Port Authority. A one-way ticket is $8 for an hour ride (it’s not direct) depending on traffic.

Taxis, Car Services, Shuttles & Coaches

Taxis can be picked up at all terminals. The trip to Midtown costs $50-$70 excluding tolls and tips, and takes about half an hour. Car services take just as long with prices ranging from  $48 (Dial 7) to $46 (Carmel). Uber flat rates start at $65.

Olympia Trails run express coach buses every 15 minutes to Midtown for $16 one-way, 30-45 minutes. SuperShuttle and GO Airport Shuttle both go to Manhattan for about $20.

Lets compare New York’s options to some international airports

A terminal at London's Heathrow Airport
A terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport

London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR): The Heathrow Express train takes 15 minutes to Paddington Station. One-way tickets are £21 (about $35) and can be purchased at the airport station or online. The Piccadilly Tube Line gets to central London in 40-50 minutes, a single rides costs £5.70 (about $10). Several coach buses also leave from the airport to destinations across the UK.

Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG): Paris’ efficient VAL electric rail system connects to all three of the city’s major airports and to public transportation. The RER B train goes to central Paris, connecting to several Metro lines along the way. It takes 30-40 minutes and costs €9.75 (about $13). Coach service by Roisybus takes 45-60 minutes to central Paris and costs €10.50 (about $14). Several public buses also service the city. You can also pick up the TVG high-speed train at Terminal 2 if you’re heading beyond Paris.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS): Trains depart foten from the airport’s large station to central Amsterdam. The ride takes 15-20 minutes, a one-way ticket costs €3.80 (about $5). The #370 public bus gets to central Amsterdam in 30 minutes for €3.60 (about $5) one-way. The same train station also services the Dutch national rail system and the high-speed Thalys train to Antwerp, Brussels and London.

While New York City has three major airports serving the metro area with multiple transportation options, the lack of train service to LGA leaves something to be desired, especially when compared to other major international airports. The affordability and ease of use with Paris and Amsterdam’s mass transit options are unquestionable, and while London’s Heathrow Exrpess may be a little spendy, its ability to get you to the city quickly and conveniently is well worth the cost.

What do you think? How do you prefer to access New York City from the area’s airports? What improvements would you like to see?

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