NEW YORK CITY — Getting to the airport used to be a simple proposition, hail a taxi or call a limo, even if it meant sitting in traffic.
But in recent years, the number of options has grown, especially at some of the biggest airports, with direct trains and shared-ride services. The additional options are cheaper and also more reliable, in many cases, if there is a lot of traffic on the highways.
Shared-ride transfers offered by companies like SuperShuttle in the United States and Go Airport Shuttle, which operates in North America and Britain, can be more time-consuming than a taxi or limousine ride, but are significantly less expensive. And fast trains like the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains in London and AirTrain JFK and AirTrain Newark in the New York area are less expensive than a taxi and often faster.
The express trains and shared-ride transfers are becoming more attractive to business travelers, said Dave Kilduff, managing director of ground transportation consulting for the CWT Solutions Group, because in "this type of economic environment, corporations are turning over every rock to save money. They're looking at alternative forms of transportation."
And services like the Heathrow Express "are not only faster, they're keeping people off the road, they're environmentally friendly," he added.
In the first six months of this year, the number of travelers whose flights ended at Heathrow Airport was down 8.9% from the period a year earlier. But Heathrow Express's share of those passengers rose 1.6% in that period.
Similarly, passenger traffic at La Guardia, Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports, all operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, declined 9.4 percent in the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2008. But passenger traffic on the Kennedy and Newark AirTrains, also operated by the Port Authority, was 1.4 percent higher in the first five months of this year than the same period last year.
William R. DeCota, the Port Authority's director of aviation, estimates that on weekday peak travel times, one-third to one-half of passengers on the Kennedy and Newark trains are business travelers.
Perhaps the biggest attraction is the cost savings. The AirTrain JFK, which picks up travelers at the Howard Beach and Jamaica train and subway stations, is $5 one way. Travelers flying out of Newark can take a New Jersey Transit train from Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport station, where they pick up AirTrain Newark; the one-way fare for the entire trip is $15. By contrast, a one-way cab ride from Midtown Manhattan to Kennedy Airport is $45, plus tolls and tip, while a one-way cab ride from Midtown to Newark can go as high as $90, plus tolls and tip. Depending on traffic, an AirTrain transfer can also be quicker than a taxi.
Kenneth Lin, a senior planning manager in New York for Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting company that advised the Port Authority on construction of the AirTrain JFK, says he is a devotee of public transit, including AirTrain JFK.
"It's cheaper than a taxi and more reliable during rush hour," he said. "It reduces stress, as it is less idiosyncratic than taxis, and it usually arrives on time. In a car or taxi, it could be a very fast or very slow trip, depending upon traffic."
The Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains both of which have economy and first-class cars offer significant time savings: the Gatwick Express travels to Victoria Station in 30 minutes, while the Heathrow Express takes only 15 minutes to get to Paddington Station. During rush hour, those trips can take triple the time in a taxi.
A round-trip economy-class fare on Gatwick Express is $48 and a round-trip first-class fare is $80. On Heathrow Express, the economy fare is $53 round trip, and the first-class round-trip fare is $83.
Money saved by using these trains is also significant: During rush hour, a cab ride from Heathrow to Paddington can cost as much as $134, without tip, while a cab ride from Gatwick to Victoria Station can cost as much as $150 without tip.
To lure business travelers, Heathrow Express has installed Wi-Fi and cellphone service; Gatwick Express offers cellphone service and refreshments. There is a charge for the Wi-Fi service and refreshments.
The two top providers of shared-ride service are SuperShuttle, which is owned by Veolia Transportation and serves 33 airports in 26 markets in the United States, and Go Airport Shuttle, a group of franchised operators that serve 80 airports in 36 cities in the United States and in Toronto and London.
Both companies set a 15 to 20-minute window of time for passenger pickups, at their home, office or hotel. Passengers travel to the airport in a van with others picked up along the way.
A taxi ride may be faster, but will certainly be more expensive. A one-way SuperShuttle ride to La Guardia from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan is $14.15, and slightly higher from a Manhattan home or office. SuperShuttle typically requires a pickup three hours before a flight departure.
ShuttleFare.com, a Web site that lets travelers book many types of airport transfers, including those offered by SuperShuttle and Go, recently introduced a corporate discount program that waives its normal $4 service fee per booking, and discounts fares by 7%.
Source: The New York Times