Commuting is about to get easier for the more than 8,000 New Yorkers who work near JFK Airport in southeast Queens.
GatewayJFK, a business improvement district in Springfield Gardens, is set to launch a subsidized shuttle service to help workers finish their commute from the Jamaica transit hub to their bustling cargo, hotel and commercial job center. The new shuttle will launch in April and run every work day from 5 to 9 a.m. and from 5 to 9 p.m. and is expected to shave 20 minutes off an average worker’s commute.
To help build the service, GatewayJFK turned to the rideshare startup Dollaride, which facilitates an app-based payment portal for New York’s dollar van industry. Commuters will be able to track their shuttle, reserve a seat, and digitally pay for their ride with the Dollaride app.
To promote the new route, GatewayJFK and Dollaride are giving away 60 free rides to the first 300 people who sign up. To redeem rides, users must sign up at dollaride.com/gateway-jfk-promotion.
Research from the urban planning firm WXY Studio found that workers in the area who use the subway spend more than one hour commuting in each direction. The shuttle service is expected to reduce that number down to 40 minutes.
“Most of the transit in the area has been focused on getting passengers to and from the JFK terminal area, but our business community developed alongside the airport and off airport property, so unfortunately they haven’t been able to benefit from those connections,” GatewayJFK Executive Director Scott Grimm-Lyon said. “Up until now, it’s been one of those ‘you can’t get there from here’ scenarios.”
The shuttle is designed to supplement and complement the MTA’s Q6 Bus line, which transit activist group Bus Turnaround Coalition found has chronic overcrowding, poor on-time performance, and an average speed of only 6 miles per hour.
“We wanted to make sure this service was reliable for the workers, and profitable for the drivers so it would be sustainable in the long term,” Grimm-Lyon said. “Plus, it’s going to be a great resource for our local job creators, especially as we work to recover from the economic collapse caused by COVID-19.”
According to GatewayJFK, one of the frequent issues businesses face in the area is worker attraction and retention, as new hires are often discouraged by the long commute.
“I find it difficult to get qualified office staff because there’s limited public transit,” Borenstein Caterers CFO Scott Langstein said.
“I live 15 minutes away; I take Uber or Lyft,” local hair stylist Lakisha Whitlock said. “If I take the bus and train it takes an hour and 30 minutes.”
Corey Muirhead, executive vice president of Logan Bus Company said, “There are no travel options.”
“No subways, no LIRR. Many people use the JFK AirTrain, but that’s really it,” Muirhead said.
Richard Bardeson of Home for the Homeless also finds the commute difficult.
“Coming from work is the harder leg for me,” he said. “If you miss the bus or are released late, then you have to wait longer to get to Jamaica Center. The problem is always from work.”
App development and a two-month test period has been subsidized by a contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
“Over time as the route develops a regular track record and shows success in reducing commute times, we foresee that employees will choose to mode shift away from single passenger vehicles and choose transit as their regular commuting option,” Dollaride CEO Su Sanni said.
GatewayJFK and Dollaride are hoping that the model, where community development organization partners with a tech startup like Dollaride, can be a model for micro mobility in the future. The service is intended to kick-start a new dollar van route and attract more vans in the long term.
“By providing that there is a demand for this service, we can attract more drivers and entrepreneurs to provide an even better level of service for the employees that need to travel to and from this community,” Grimm-Lyon said.