LGA AirTrain Projected Ridership Equivalent to Low Performing NYC Bus Route
Compared to New York City bus transit operations, the roughly 6,000 expected net LaGuardia AirTrain users in 2026 add up to a single underperforming 2019 city bus route.
56% of the local and Select Bus Service routes across the five boroughs had ridership at or above 6,000 weekday riders in the last year before the Covid pandemic. Busy bus routes are several multiples of this level.
LGA AirTrain projected net transit ridership in 2026 is under 1% of pre-pandemic Queens daily bus ridership (and under 2% of current, mid-pandemic ridership).
Why compare the LaGuardia AirTrain to NYC buses?
We compared estimated ridership on the LaGuardia AirTrain to city bus ridership to help the public understand how incredibly small Airtrain ridership is given its whopping $2.1B price tag. The Airtrain is not a “mega” transit project, it’s a mega-expensive airport shuttle. City bus routes are a closer comparison than the subway, because every single city subway line has far, far greater usage numbers than expected for the AirTrain. In fact, anticipated AirTrain ridership is lower than usage at two-thirds of individual subway stations across New York City in 2019.
Reinvent Albany documented the ridership projections from the Final Environmental Impact Statement and other Port Authority documents for the AirTrain project in a September 10, 2021 release, “ LaGuardia’s $2B AirTrain would be world’s most costly transit.” We found that in spite of projecting roughly 13,000 AirTrain riders per day in 2026, over half of these riders were either driving cars to the AirTrain in Willets Point or were diverted from bus or bus+subway trips being made today. The result was 5,926 net new daily transit trips generated by the $2.05 billion project.
Another reason to look at ridership on buses is the inequitable quality of transit and transportation investments in NYC. While the Port Authority proposes spending over $2 billion to generate a net 6,000 new transit trips, capital investment for buses for the entire MTA bus system for 2020-2024 was set at $3.5 billion prior to the pandemic, when city bus riders took 2.5 million trips each day. The ridership/investment mismatch is extreme and sadly unsurprising given that city bus riders are overwhelming low-income New Yorkers of color. In contrast, a LaGuardia transit access project that actually builds on Queens’ and New York City’s existing subway and bus systems would without question provide much greater transportation benefits to those using the airport, including 14,000 airport service workers, and the many more transit riders traveling near it.
- LGA AirTrain net ridership is in the lower half of Queens bus routes ranked by 2019 ridership and lower than 56% of local and Select Bus routes citywide.
- AirTrain projected net transit ridership is very close to 2019 ridership of the Q70 Select Bus, the sole “airport only” bus route serving a NYC airport. Other buses serving LaGuardia are the M60, Q47, Q48 and Q72.
- LGA AirTrain estimated construction cost is $2.05 billion.
Capital investment for buses for the entire MTA bus system for 2020-2024 was set at $3.5 billion prior to the pandemic, an appallingly inequitable distribution of resources for a ridership with an average income below $30,000
|46||LGA AirTrain 2026 ridership net of diverted bus/subway riders & riders reaching Willets Point by car||5,926|
|48||Q70 SBS (sole “airport only” bus route)||5,829|
Note with table:
A close reading of the AirTrain’s environmental impact statement found that in spite of projecting roughly 13,000 AirTrain riders per day in 2026, over half of these riders were either predicted to drive cars to the AirTrain in Willets Point or were diverted from bus or bus+subway trips being made today. The result was 5,926 net new daily transit trips generated by the $2.05 billion project. See “LaGuardia’s $2B AirTrain would be world’s most costly transit.”
LGA AirTrain FEIS Appendix B “Project Description” pp 9-11, FEIS Appendix C “Ridership”
Available at https://www.lgaaccesseis.com/final-eis-document
LGA Ground Access Mode Choice Model and AirTrain Ridership Forecast. Port Authority 2018
Subway & Bus Ridership for 2019