Officials’ eye bus service to La Guardia after railway project was canceled

In the ranking order of public transport projects, trains always seem to outnumber buses — even when trains are designed to go the wrong way.

“Some people will say buses are unattractive,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, a former New York City transportation commissioner.

But Sadik-Khan recently joined other New York transportation experts and agencies to recommend buses as the most practical solution to the problem of improving transit connections to La Guardia, one of busiest airport in the country.

However, even with the dramatically reduced prices, Ms. Sadik-Khan admits buses can be harder to get users excited about. “Everybody loves the idea of ​​a rail link to the airport,” she said. And while the bus routes may not capture the public imagination as much as a new train, transit officials have concluded that more people are likely to use the proposed bus service than railway connection.

New York City transportation planners last week abandoned the idea of ​​building an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport at a cost of more than $2 billion. The railroad was once an exciting project for then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, who faced criticism that he ignored alternatives in favor of a plan that would polish the city. his estate. Critics also complain that AirTrain’s route will take passengers to Manhattan in the wrong direction to get to the subway or train in the city.

Mr. Cuomo’s successor, Kathy Hochul, ordered a review of the rail plan months after her term. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates La Guardia, convened a group of engineering and construction companies to study the proposed AirTrain and 13 other options to improve airport transit. They concluded that it would take at least 12 years and cost up to $7 billion to extend a metro line to La Guardia.

Sadik-Khan, one of three members of the panel appointed to review the engineers’ analysis, said there was no other option, including AirTrain, that would attract as many passengers by bus service. better. She said the review concluded that bus services would attract about five million passengers a year.

The panel supported plans to strengthen existing public bus connections with metro line 7 in Queens’ Woodside and create a direct shuttle between the airport and the N and W metro lines in Astoria. That solution would cost about $500 million, just a fraction of the cost for the now-discarded AirTrain. Governor Hochul has accepted the recommendation, and the Port Authority’s board of commissioners is expected to authorize it within three months.

Having oversaw the creation of several express bus routes in the city, called Selective Bus Service, Ms. Sadik-Khan is a proponent of getting tourists out of the car by giving buses Move faster in city traffic. A decade ago, when she worked at City Hall under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Metropolitan Transit Authority formed Selective Bus Service routes to La Guardia from the Bronx, Manhattan and in Queens.

But speeding up buses on congested city roads is no small undertaking. It requires adding or changing lanes to give buses their own space and reprogramming traffic signals to give priority to buses.

Engineers estimate that the proposed improvements to the Queens route, known as the Q70, will cost about $100 million. A large portion of that total will be spent turning a one-mile stretch of the shoulder of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway north into a dedicated bus lane, their report said.

The more expensive part of the chosen solution would be to create a shuttle service to the Astoria Ditmars metro station. Engineers estimate that it will cost about $340 million, including the purchase of 17 electric buses, building a depot and installing charging stations.

They determined that there was also a need to improve the metro station, which did not have an escalator, to make it more accessible to passengers with disabilities. Once the shuttle is operational, which engineers estimate will take four to five years, operating costs will be around $14 million a year, they concluded.

The Port Authority, which will pay for the creation of the shuttle, said it has yet to make a decision on the fare for the service.

In April, Governor Hochul announced that, pending the council’s proposal on alternatives to AirTrain, she had eliminated fares on the Q70 bus. John Lindsay, a spokesman for the MTA, said the state and Port Authority are contributing $1.2 million annually to Q70.

Since then, the number of passengers on that bus has grown faster than the steady growth of passengers on public transit in general, according to data provided by the transportation agency. Last year, more than 2.1 million passengers used the Q70, up more than 1 million from 2021, those numbers show.

In the first two months of 2023, the Q70 had more than 340,000 riders, up more than 50% from about 220,000 riders in the first two months of last year.

“Governor Hochul has made it clear that New Yorkers deserve world-class transportation to world-class airports,” Mr. Lindsay said. “While the Port Authority begins implementing public transit solution recommendations for La Guardia, Governor Hochul will continue to provide free Q70 buses for all customers.”


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