My red-eye flight got in early and I wasn’t in much of a hurry to get to the office. I also didn’t want to sit in rush hour traffic. I decided to give public transportation a try: taking the Airtrain at JFK to connect with NYC public transportation to get to the City. Although this isn’t my first time taking public transportation from/to JFK, I did notice the following issues today which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (managers of JFK) must address if they want commuter adoption.
1. Improve directions and signage at the JFK airport and Airtrain stations — Maps at the Airtrain stations at JFK are confusing. It shows how the terminals are linked, and what public trains and buses you can connect to using the Airtrain. There are no detailed information on where the public transportation can take you - for example, I can connect to the A train at Howard Beach. Where can the A train take me? Should I even go on the A train vs. the E train?
2. Install a PA (public announcement) system on teh Airtrain — the Airtrain doesn’t make any announcements. I got on the Airtrain on terminal 3 and didn’t hear one single announcement. The train went from terminals 3 to 9 then Federal Circle and Sutphin without telling passengers where to get off or what airline is at which terminal. Before reaching Sutphin station where you would connect to NYC public transit, the train stopped at Federal Circle. Over half the train thought Federal Circle was their destination to switch from the Airtrain to public transportation. Without announcements on the Airtrain, it is just way too confusing for visitors and even for most locals.
3. Tell me the Airtrain is not free, how much it cost, and where/how to pay — when the Airtrain reached Sutphin Boulevard, where you can connect to the Long Island Railroad (LIRR), or NYC buses or NYC subway, you need to pay $5 to leave the Airtrain station. The $5 Airtrain fee the cost for the Airtrain to take you from the terminals to the public transportation hub. However the $5 fee is no where to be found from the time you board the Airtrain at JFK to your destination. When you arrive at Sutphin or Howard Beach, all you see are a bunch of Metrocard vending machines. How is an average person supposed to know how much to pay or even have to pay for the Airtrain since many inter-airport trams are generally free. The lack of transparency on Airtrain fee creates confusion at the turnstile and Metrocard payment stations. This can be eliminated with a simple sign that reads $5 for the Airtrain and instructions to make payment.
4. Provide signs and people to answer questions for NYC public transportation — after I have paid my $5 for the Airtrain, I am confronted with more confusion. The confusion is called NYC commuters plus public transportation choices spanning from: the LIRR, NYC subway and NYC bus. You can take any of the three options to get to the City or the other four boroughs. On the brighter note, both Howard Beach and Sutphin stations have large signs telling you where to get on the subway and where to pick up the bus. Aside from signs leading to the different modes of transportation, there are no transit maps showing you how to get to the City or how much it costs. At Sutphin, there was only one LIRR working and it doesn’t tell you how much it cost to get to PENN station or Flatbush. Furthermore, a visitor and even some locals have no idea what station to get off without a map - i.e., I would bet over 50% of the local New Yorkers have no idea that Flatbush Avenue on the LIRR is connected to Atlantic Avenue subway station in Brooklyn. At Sutphin, you’ll also have to walk through the LIRR station before reaching the NYC subway which is located at the basement. Howard Beach is a less confusing station if you’re a tourist. Your only option from Howard Beach to the City is the A train on the NYC subway.
5. Make the NYC subway turnstiles wider so people with luggage can easily go through — the Sutphin and Howard Beach stations must modify their turnstiles and install gates similar to what is available on the Airtrain. There is no way a person carrying a roller or suitcase can get through the NYC subway turnstile. Instead of having turnstiles, the MTA needs to install gates that open and closes similar to the Airtrain gates. The gates need to be wide enough for a person to pull a luggage through it. Increasing the number of elevators would be nice too!
If NYC is committed to providing public transportation from JFK to the City to eliminate car congestion and attract more riders, the City needs to push the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to implement my recommendations. The City will see an increase in public transportation adoption with minimal costs.