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Houston Filmmakers and Actors: Train to J.F.K. Scores With Fliers, but Not With Airport Workers

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Train to J.F.K. Scores With Fliers, but Not With Airport Workers

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
The AirTrain links terminals at Kennedy Airport and connects with rail stations.

January 12, 2005
Train to J.F.K. Scores With Fliers, but Not With Airport Workers

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 - In its first year of operation, the AirTrain, which connects Kennedy International Airport with the New York City subway system and the Long Island Rail Road, attracted more airline passengers, but far fewer airport employees, than had been predicted, officials said on Tuesday.

Nearly nine million passengers rode the $1.9 billion rail system last year. Currently, there are an average of 32,000 riders a day, according to two officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who discussed the rail system at a transportation conference here.

The AirTrain connections to and from the subway and commuter rail stations in Jamaica, Queens, and the subway station at Howard Beach, Queens, have both become popular with airline passengers, the officials said. Many of those passengers were flying JetBlue, the discount airline that has become the largest carrier at Kennedy.

Daily ridership is 4,500 on the Jamaica connection and 4,000 on the Howard Beach connection, for a combined fare-paying ridership of 8,500 a day. Riders using either of those connections are charged $5 in each direction. The rest of the AirTrain riders - 23,500 a day, slightly more than the 23,000 projected - are users of a free "circulator" that runs continuously in a clockwise loop every eight minutes, connecting the airport's terminals from six elevated stations.

Officials had projected 11,000 daily paid riders, divided evenly between airline passengers and airport workers. But of the 8,500 daily paid riders at the end of last year, only 1,500 were employees, according to Patty Clark, senior adviser for external affairs in the aviation department of the Port Authority, which operates the New York area airports. The ridership climbed from 5,878 a day when the AirTrain opened in December 2003.

The Port Authority, which is seeking ways to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution around the airport, hopes to increase the use of the AirTrain by the approximately 40,000 people who work at Kennedy.

The airport runs an employee parking lot that charges such low rates, Ms. Clark said, that it is less expensive for many employees to drive to work than to use public transportation and the AirTrain. Starting Feb. 1, the parking fees will increase, she said.

The Port Authority hopes that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which collects the $5 AirTrain fares, will devise a discounted special 10-ride MetroCard that workers can use on the AirTrain.

Ms. Clark and another Port Authority official, Joseph M. Englot, the assistant chief engineer for design, said that JetBlue Airways had drawn many budget-conscious passengers who use public transportation to get to the airport.

Ms. Clark and Mr. Englot discussed the AirTrain in separate talks at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council, which advises the public and the federal government on scientific and engineering matters.

The AirTrain at Kennedy, which began service in December 2003, was a longtime goal of planners and engineers who had been seeking faster and more direct connections between Manhattan and Kennedy since the airport opened in 1948.

The Port Authority's other AirTrain opened in October 2001 and connects Newark Liberty International Airport with a train station used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, which serve Manhattan. That system now has an annual ridership of 12.3 million, with 33,700 daily riders on average. About 30,000 of those riders use the free airport circulator, while about 4,000 riders pay to use the connection to the train station.

From the time it awarded the main contract in 1998 to the time it finished work, the Port Authority heard frequent criticism from people who said the light rail line was not particularly convenient. Compared with the Newark AirTrain, "this system was a lot more controversial in that the New York side of the river really wanted a one-seat ride: you get on at J.F.K. and you get off at Manhattan," Ms. Clark said.

The AirTrain at Kennedy was designed with a platform height and track gauge similar to those used by the subways and the Long Island Rail Road, Mr. Englot said, so that in the future, it could be connected to new tracks leading to Manhattan.

But new rail cars would have to be designed and purchased, he said, because the AirTrain's 32 cars are automated and operate without a driver, unlike those of the subway and the commuter railroad.


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