Transit group pushes for free LGA shuttle

By Philip Newman

A transit advocacy organization has released a study concluding that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Q70 bus line could be converted into a free LaGuardia Airport subway shuttle that would attract thousands of riders and could be introduced immediately, probably at no net cost to the MTA.

The Riders Alliance report recommended turning the Q70 into a free shuttle bus, renaming it the “Free LaGuardia Subway Shuttle” and implementing basic traveler-friendly improvements such as 10-minute departure intervals, countdown clocks at bus stops along with clear signage at LaGuardia and the bus stops as well as on-board signs showing which airlines operate at which terminals.

The Q70 now connects LaGuardia terminals with the E, F, M, R and No. 7 trains at 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue and with the Long Island Rail Road at Woodside, running on the highway and making no local stops. The Riders Alliance recommended keeping the route intact but converting the service into a free shuttle.

The MTA took a dim view of the alliance’s proposal.

“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,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA.

The Riders Alliance said a survey it conducted showed: 12.5 percent of people going to or from LaGuardia now use public transit.

49 percent said they would use public transit if there were a free shuttle to the subway.

85 percent of people on the Q70 bus already transfer to or from the subway, meaning that their Q70 ride is a free transfer that brings no revenue to the MTA.

If only 1 percent more travelers chose public transit, the new revenue would more than offset the cost of making the bus free for the riders who are not already getting a free ride.

“We wholeheartedly disagree with the premise that this could all be done at no cost to the MTA,” Ortiz said. “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.”

Precedent from Boston found that making the airport shuttle a free trip increased ridership by 18 percent in just one year, the alliance said.

But Ortiz cautioned that “if ridership would continue to grow on the route to the level they claim, we would have to add service and that costs money.”

In 2014 the Q70 carried 3,419 riders on an average weekday and 1,185, 485 riders total in a year. An 18 percent increase comparable to Boston’s would bring another 213,000 LaGuardia travelers to public transit.

Global Gateway Alliance, an advocacy group for airports, and Gene Russianoff of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign both backed the shuttle proposal as a way to revive LaGuardia as it faces a major $4 billion renovation.

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