There are about fifteen different ways to get from Manhattan to Newark Liberty International Airport. None of them are easy. But what is perhaps considered the easiest means of getting to EWR bilks tourists and locals alike.
No, we’re not talking about a gypsy cab driver who seeks out fares in the terminal. The ones doing the ripping off are New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Eight years ago, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey completed a $415-million dollar project to extend Newark Airport’s internal monorail to a new NJ Transit and Amtrak station along the Northeast Corridor Line. The extension added merely a mile to the dual-track line and was widely considered a boondoggle (especially after discussions of a much more logical extension of the PATH to EWR bubbled to the surface in 2004).
Along with the new train came a new set of fares. Fare collection for the Airtrain is performed at the Amtrak/NJ Transit hub through a set of turnstiles with ticket vending machines on either side. The current fare for the stumbling, bumbling monorail is $5.50, up from the $5 charged when it opened in 2001. The revenue from that fare is split between NJ Transit, Amtrak, and the Port Authority.
But that’s not the fare that most passengers pay. NJ Transit offers a one-way ticket option that combines their services and the AirTrain. It is the option most commonly offered at vending machines inside Newark Airport, and the only option available when selecting Newark Airport as a destination at a NJ Transit ticket machine. That option, however, does not simply tack on the $5.50 Airtrain fare. Instead, it inexplicably adds an additional charge that falls into the coffers of NJ Transit.
For example, from New York-Penn Station, a one-way fare to Newark Airport is $15.00. Take away the Airtrain fare and the base fare for the NJ Transit train ride is $9.50. Seems reasonable, until you realize that the one-way fare to Elizabeth, two stops further from New York than the airport, is $4.75. Considering Newark Airport would theoretically be in a closer and therefore cheaper fare zone, NJ Transit is taking in an extra $5.00 on each combined New York-to-Newark Airport ticket.
What is the explanation for this? It’s hard to tell, but given that less than 5,000 people use this connection each day, the price could very well be driving people away. The more reasonably-priced Airtrain connection at JFK has attracted more than twice the paid ridership since it opened in 2003, despite being geographically further from Manhattan than Newark. From Newark, outside of peak periods, a cab to Manhattan is faster and virtually the same price for a family of four, who would pay $52.50 to ride the Airtrain. An average cab fare to Midtown from EWR is just over $50. In addition, connections to NJ Transit are limited in off-peak hours and non-existant overnight.
In hindsight, the PATH extension would have been more logical. It would have provided frequent, regular service, and would offer the first one-seat ride from Manhattan to an airport. But the least NJ Transit and the Port Authority could do is encourage mass transit usage and make the Airtrain option a reasonably-priced alternative instead of bilking passengers and driving fares away with its high price point. The Airtrain may have been a boondoggle, but for now it’s also a cash cow.