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JFK AirTrain Surprise: Reduced Frequencies
"By most accounts, the JFK AirTrain has been a success story." So goes the auspicious opening line of an article by Benjamin Kabak, which has found some numbers that cast doubt on the success story.
Kabak also acknowledges early on that the AirTRain served 2.5 million riders in its first year—a number that grew to 6.5 million ten years later in 2014. "But a funny thing happened on the way to 6.5 million riders: The Port Authority has quietly reduced the frequency of service on the AirTrain," writes Kabak.
In addition to the concern about reduced frequencies on such a popular service, Kabak expresses frustration with the lack of transparency regarding the reduced frequencies. On the former concern:
As recently as 2009, the Port Authority operated the JFK AirTrain on five-minute peak-hour headways and 10-minute off-peak headways. A recent brochure tells a much different story as peak headways are now 7-12 minutes with service operating every 10-15 minutes between 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and every 15-20 minutes from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. This is, effectively, a 50 percent service cut.
And on the latter frustration:
It’s not quite clear when these new timetables went into effect or why. The Port Authority hasn’t responded to requests for comment yet. But posts on an aviation-related message board indicate reduced AirTrain frequency as long ago as 2011. This isn’t a new problem, but it seems to be one the Port Authority has slipped past the public without much notice.
Kabak doesn't shy away from criticism of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the AirTrain, but his concern is that reduced service and crowded trains might indicate larger problems with the 12-year old system. Also, there's a LaGuardia AirTrain proposal, out of Governor Andrew Cuomo's office, still on the table and very much up for debate.