Before Building PATH Extension, Port Authority Should Consider Improving Bus Service

Image: Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

Airports and how we get to them is the cause du jour of the proposed 2017-2026 Port Authority Capital Plan currently under consideration (and subject to public comment) by the Port Authority. Despite the overall “spread it around” spending approach, airport access is getting about as much money as the Gateway tunnel program or the Port Authority Bus Terminal, despite having much lower ridership.

This unfocused, short-sighted approach omits the strategic, long term planning necessary for an agency of this size.  Take for example the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia, a $1.5 billion project whose goals could be achieved through providing better bus service.

But that’s not the only project in this Capital Plan that ought to be placed on the back burner. Here are four reasons the $1.7 billion PATH Extension to Newark Airport isn’t a sound investment for the Port Authority to be making today.

1. It doesn’t create a one-seat ride to the airport.

Since the PATH extension wouldn’t directly serve terminals, the project would do nothing more than provide another two-seat ride from Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport. New Jersey Transit trains traveling along the Raritan Valley, Northeast Corridor, and North Jersey Coast lines already stop at the Newark Liberty International Airport Station, where passengers can then transfer to the AirTrain.

2. Adding riders to an already overcrowded system that is already projected to get worse.

The PATH system is at or nearly at capacity, and demand is expected to increase. This is especially true for the Newark-World Trade Center line. According to the Port Authority’s Trans-Hudson Commuting Capacity Study:

At some point between 2015 and 2020, peak demand on this line is expected to exceed existing capacity, which indicates a need for capacity expansion in the near-term. Demand is projected to continue to grow beyond 2020, reaching as much as 75% higher than 2015 levels by 2040.

Of course, some capacity expansion is included in this current capital plan, with $278 million being allocated to complete the Signal System Replacement Program by 2022. But according to the Commuting Capacity Study, the Signal System Replacement Program isn’t enough, because

By the mid-2020s, the additional capacity that would be enabled by the Signal System Replacement Program is likely to be insufficient to fully accommodate projected demand on the Newark-WTC Line. Capacity on the Newark-WTC Line could be expanded by an additional 25% by enabling use of 10-car trains instead of 8-car trains on this line.

Making matters worse, these projections do not include the PATH train extension. With such serious current and future problems, it would seem Port Authority should be much more concerned with finishing all capacity improvement projects for the current system before it tries to extend the system and add even more riders to an existing capacity problem.

3. Building the PATH Extension necessitates rebuilding the 21-year old AirTrain.

The beleaguered AirTrain Newark, built in 1996 with a cost of approximately $1 billion when construction and repairs are all added up, has been in need of a replacement since the day it was built. After years of mounting problems, in 2014, the AirTrain had to be shut down for 75 days due to erosion-induced maintenance needs. Now, in the proposed capital plan, the Port Authority is spending another $380 million for more AirTrain maintenance on a system it will eventually replace for an estimated $2 billion.

4. An enhanced bus service can connect passengers directly to the terminals for a lot less money

For all the reasons above, much like the LaGuardia AirTrain, before building the PATH Extension, the Port Authority should first consider implementing an express bus service to accommodate airport customers and workers.

According to the Regional Plan Association, about 2.5 million trips per year are projected for the PATH Extension. That works out to 6,850 passengers per day, or 285 passengers per hour, or 48 passengers every ten minutes, on average. This type of ridership could easily be accommodated by establishing an express bus service with 10 minute headways between Newark Penn Station to the airport terminals. And if the Port Authority is really serious about getting passengers to the airport as quickly and conveniently as possible, it will have to work with the City of Newark and the New Jersey Department of Transportation to consider potential improvements like transit signal priority, queue jumps and exclusive bus lanes to make the service as fast and efficient as possible.

11 Comments on "Before Building PATH Extension, Port Authority Should Consider Improving Bus Service"

  1. Dan Greenberg | February 3, 2017 at 6:19 pm |

    Since the AirTrain has to be replaced anyway, why not just get rid of the current AirTrain/NE Corridor stop and extend the AirTrain from the airport to Newark Penn Station, which is already served by NJ Transit Rail (three lines), NJ Transit Bus (over 25 lines), PATH, Greyhound, Peter Pan, Trailways, Newark Light Rail (both lines) and Amtrak (11 routes). Assuming whatever replaces the current AirTrain will continue to serve all terminals, it seems to me that a Penn Station to the terminals (not unlike AirTrain JFK) route would provide maximum flexibility

  2. Ah yes, more (bus) traffic on overcrowded streets. Makes so much more sense then a grade separated rail solution properly done.

  3. Rory Lovelace | February 4, 2017 at 4:35 pm |

    Time to eliminate that Whitman-sponsored Airtrain failure. Shut it down cold and replace it with what it once had; dedicated shuttle bus service.

  4. Rob Durchola | February 4, 2017 at 7:12 pm |

    I agree with your comments on improving bus service to Newark Airport.

    Readers should note that except during peak hours, the existing bus service from downtown Newark to the Airport (one route -#62 – serving Penn Station and the other route – #go28 – serving Broad Street Station) are actually faster than NJT Rail/Airtrain to the actual terminal sites. #62 used to offer even more frequent service before the Airport Rail Station and Airtrain were built. And the #62 runs 24/7.

    There would be a transfer penalty for riders transferring from PATH; but you really only need a slightly beefed up existing bus service. You don’t really need a major investment in express service; though some options, such as signal preference for Airport buses on the southern portion of Broad Street, would help.

  5. Mr. Transit | February 4, 2017 at 7:52 pm |

    Thanks for this column. Extending PATH to Newark Airport would be a tremendous waste of scarce regional transportation dollars and compete with other good options like NJT. There are so many other projects in NY and NJ that would score higher on any objective ranking.

  6. Yes, but who wants to be stuck in a bus in rush-hour traffic — especially when his flight is leaving in an hour?

  7. Any extension of the line needs to include an additional stop in Newark, namely at City Hall in the Central Ward. Already possible in a phased approach: An (MOS) Minimum operating segment using the existing storage lines. The existing station should NOW be made accessible to pedestrians and buses from the South Ward.

  8. Because the monorail has to be replaced anyway, it should be replaced with a system that runs to Newark Penn, similar to how the JFK Airtrain operates. This would be cheaper than extending PATH because the infrastructure has to be built to hold lighter vehicles.

    This would provide connections with:
    ALL NJ Transit trains (rather than just some)
    ALL Amtrak trains (rather than just some)
    Newark Subway
    Local Bus
    Bolt Bus

    This proves a much more convenient connection for ALL users, and not just those coming from World Trade. The best part is that those coming from WTC would have the exact same connection as a proposed PATH extension. Even better, NJ Transit and Amtrak could eliminate the airport stop, speeding up all their trips as well.

  9. The crux of all these problems is the Port Authority itself. Its governance structure makes a competent solution impossible. From above it is being told to implement arbitrary transit “wins” from an elite perspective that are guaranteed to be long-term revenue losers. From below it is being asked to fix the historic abuse and neglect of the Weequahic neighborhood, which is driving Newark political support for the project. From inside it is facing lobbying to continue the wasteful spending that got us to this point in the first place: bloated, incompetent, and overpaid police forces, inefficient transit operations, and terrible purchase decisions like the so-called Newark AirTrain that was obsolete the day it was paid for. Somehow this Gordian knot has to be cut and we should be putting pressure on the candidates for NJ governor to help.

  10. Sorry Vincent. Big problem with this analysis: bus riders are not train riders. Trains move far more people than busses. Busses are already trapped in the congested roads; increasing service will slow it down more.

    PA is right on this one. Expand PATH. Better ROI.

  11. Let’s fix the basic infrastructure. Multiple doors out of service again at Newport PATH station. Three PA cops standing in front of them chatting this AM. How about holding one open?

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