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More Riders Would Take Bus to LaGuardia if it Was Free, Group Says

By Katie Honan | November 23, 2015 4:08pm
 This is a riders group's mockup of the free Q70, rebranded as a shuttle bus to LaGuardia from Queens subway stations.
This is a riders group's mockup of the free Q70, rebranded as a shuttle bus to LaGuardia from Queens subway stations.
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The Riders Alliance

JACKSON HEIGHTS — A grassroots transit group trying to encourage more riders to take advantage of the newly-created Q70 bus to LaGuardia Airport have a suggestion for the MTA: Make it free.

The Riders Alliance released a study Monday that found the bus route — which picks up riders at the 61st-Woodside subway and LIRR station and at 74th Street-Broadway — only drew 1.2 million annual riders in 2014. That's compared to more than 5 million riders on the M60 from Manhattan in 2014, according to MTA data.

The study found that the bus suffers from poor signage at the airport and at bus stops along the route, confusing would-be riders who might otherwise be inclined to hop on.

“Mass transit access to LaGuardia is limited at best, and complex and convoluted at worst, costing passengers time and money and our region its reputation,” said Joe Sitt, from Global Gateway Alliance, which helped The Riders Alliance with its study.

“A clearly branded, free airport subway shuttle, however, is a low cost solution that would provide LaGuardia’s 27 million passengers with a 21st century access link.  And with plans to modernize LaGuardia underway, the time to act is now.”

The Q70 launched in 2013 as a quick connection to the airport from the 7 train and LIRR in Woodside and the E,F,M,R and 7 trains at Jackson Heights.

If the shuttle was free, it would be similar to the Silver Line in Boston, which saw an 18 percent spike in ridership after it stopped charging for the service, the study said.

Advocates estimated that a fourth of the riders they polled got onto the bus using a free transfer or planned to use a transfer after riding it, adding that offering it as a free shuttle might not be much of a loss for the agency's coffers.

“What we’re calling for is to make the buses look different, improve the signage, make a couple of changes inside to make them better suited to travelers,” said Claire Cameron, also from the Global Gateway Alliance.

The MTA “wholeheartedly” disagrees, according to a spokesman.

“First of all, one-fourth of riders do not come from the subway and don’t use the free transfer, and thus we would lose money on one out of every four customers under their plan,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

If the bus route grew it would force the MTA to expand service — which costs money, too, he said. 

“At the end of the day, there is simply zero evidence that making it a free shuttle would increase ridership on subways to the point it would make the shuttle self-sustaining.”