Yesterday’s post described a proposal by Governor Murphy to fund Newark AirTrain reconstruction using funds from the capital program of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This project could better connect South Ward residents to the regional rail network, and could create opportunities for airport-related business to grow and hire in Newark’s South Ward. Today’s post describes in more detail how the AirTrain project could advance these goals.
Passengers arriving at Newark Airport are charged a $5.50 fee each way to use the AirTrain, whereas passengers who are picked up or dropped off by car do not pay anything. The $5.50 fee is included as a surcharge on NJ Transit tickets purchased for arrival at or departure from the Newark Airport train station.
Like transit access, auto access has costs associated with it, including costs of Port Authority police patrols and regular road maintenance, as well as the original construction costs and the eventual road replacement costs.
Pairing the rebuilding of AirTrain with project funding based on auto pick up and drop off fees could correct this inequity. Future charges to access the airport by both car and transit could raise revenue needed for AirTrain reconstruction. These charges could also implement policy priorities related to jobs access, sustainability, and climate by setting fees differentially for auto and transit access.
Raising New Revenues
In addition to the benefits above, charging vehicles to access Newark Airport terminals could raise new revenues to fund infrastructure.
An airport vehicle access charge system could be easily administered by the NJ Turnpike Authority on behalf of the Port Authority using overhead gantries and EZ Pass readers that are already widely deployed and accepted around the region.
A persuasive analysis of Newark Airport ground access prepared for RPA shows that of 36 million airport trips per year, 28.5 million are charged nothing for airport access. An airport access charge of $3 per trip could raise $85 million annually from auto trips alone. Trips diverted to transit – currently representing 2.8 million airport trips annually – would contribute additional revenue as well at whatever the future transit access charge would be.
Issues to Consider
Ensure that Past PFC Use doesn’t Preclude Future Design Flexibility
Because the original Newark Airport rail station was funded by PFCs, it may take some policy analysis to make the case to the FAA that an expansion of airport rail station access should be permitted, even with new more flexible funding sources being used to pay for expanded access. One possible line of argument here is that since the AirTrain has reached its useful life and needs replacement, the original access restrictions put in place should no longer hold force.
Design AirTrain to Accommodate Airport Expansion and PATH Extension
Since airport expansion is crucial to the entire region’s economic prospects, a rebuilt AirTrain system should be designed to accommodate new terminal and runway locations, and to not preclude an extension of the PATH system directly to the airport. These considerations should be addressed in any future AirTrain design exercise that occurs.
Apply Auto Access Fees at all Regional Airports
Finally, it is important that any airport access charge established at Newark Airport be established regionally for all airports, so that no state’s airport is at a disadvantage relative to the others. Establishing a regional auto access charge to airports would not only leverage the policy advances underway in NY State related to congestion pricing, but the funds they raise would ease pressure on the Port Authority’s capital program and provide funds needed for other critical investments, including airport expansion and terminal renewal.
Deploy Low-Cost, Driverless Technologies
The existing monorail is driverless, but it is limited to its guideway. New developments in autonomous vehicle technology could make it possible to build a Newark Airport circulator system for significantly less cost than that of the original monorail. It is also possible to imagine a “permeable” AirTrain system that connects not just to the Northeast Corridor rail station but to other important connections as well, including Frelinghuysen Avenue and downtown Newark.