In a June 17th letter, Comptroller Scott Stringer asked the heads of the MTA and the Port Authority a series of questions about the capacity and service frequencies of the LIRR Port Washington Line, 7 train and Q48 bus route to the airport.
“Improving access to LaGuardia Airport is an important aspect of our regional transit planning,” he wrote. “However, I am concerned about the capacity constraints that the proposed AirTrain may place on the surrounding subway, bus and commuter rail lines.”
The Port Authority predicts that the rail connection between the airport and Willets Point will have 6.6 million annual trips in 2025, and 8.4 million trips in 2045.
On the LIRR, Stringer wrote that in the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan, $75 million was initially allocated for “replacement and upgrade” of the Mets-Willets Point station to “accommodate large volumes of railroad customers” ahead of the AirTrain.
But, the comptroller noted, that number was reduced to $15 million in April 2018, and has since been cut to $10 million”without explanation.” Stringer asked why the funding and construction for those improvements were delayed.
He also asked how the MTA expects the station to be completed and ADA accessible by 2022.
“Given that the LaGuardia AirTrain is currently being slated for a 2022 completion date, these delays and budget cuts are concerning,” Stringer said.
The comptroller also had concerns about the service frequency of the LIRR Port Washington line. While the line provides six trains per hour from 7 to 9 a.m., the train only comes every half hour from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and every hour in the late evening.
He added that AirTrain passengers will come from not just Penn Station, but also eastern Queens and Long Island. Yet, the Port Washington trains “regularly skip” stations like Flushing, Murray Hill and Douglaston during peak hours, he said.
“This infrequent service, if kept as is, will not be sufficient to handle increased demand from LaGuardia passengers,” he wrote.
The MTA’s 2015-2019 capital plan also allocated $50 million to New York City Transit to repair parts of the Mets-Willets Point station, Stringer noted, including replacing the street stairs, mezzanine to platform stairs, mezzanine floors, doors, windows, walls and canopies.
But according to the MTA’s capital dashboard, this renovation project is “0 percent complete,” and some schedule dates are not even available.
Additionally, Stringer said, the Port Authority forecasted that 38 percent of AirTrain passengers would use the LIRR and 32 percent would use the 7 train.
“The 7 train, of course, has seen a dramatic increase in ridership in the last decade,” he wrote, “and has experienced significant overcrowding.”
He asked whether the installation of a modern signal system will increase capacity, requested a roadmap of planned service increase, and questioned whether the subway system’s lower fare would mean more riders would take the 7 train rather than the LIRR.
With regard to the Q48 bus, which travels from Flushing to LaGuardia Airport, Stringer questioned whether the bus would still be necessary after the AirTrain is complete.
There’s also the question of the Queens bus network redesign, and how the AirTrain would factor into that process as well.
In the letter, Stringer questioned the cost of fares for the AirTrain. The base proposal offered was $15 for the AirTrain and LIRR, and $11 for the AirTrain and subway.
That price gap is “inconsistent” with the current fare structure, which is more expensive for LIRR trips.
“I have long argued that LIRR fares for in-city trips are exorbitant and a major reason for low ridership at the LIRR stations in Queens,” he wrote.
Finally, he asked about the project cost, which was first projected at $450 million in 2014. Since then, the number has shot up to $1.5 billion with a completion date in 2022.
“Given the nature of New York City construction projects, these costs projections will likely continue to rise,” Stringer wrote.
An MTA spokesperson responded in a statement that they intend to respond directly to the comptroller regarding his letter.
“We are working collaboratively with the Port Authority to ensure that LIRR service will meet capacity needs associated with the AirTrain LaGuardia,” the spokesperson said.