Arriving at an unfamiliar airport, you see multitudes of signs directing you towards taxis, shuttles and public transit. So many questions arise: Which should you take? Do I have enough time to take transit? The answers to these questions vary widely depending on the airport. There is a lively and valuable debate over the priority, value and social equity of airport transit links. However, this post is from the point of view of a traveler, ranking the transport options between the world’s 50 largest airports and their central city by comparing the best transit alternative to a taxi. After traveling a fair amount in the past few years, I wanted to compare transit outcomes for travelers and identify the best practices.
|Transit Service Type||Transit Time Penalty* (Minutes)||Average Frequency (Minutes)|
|Airport Express Rail||3||17|
(*) Time penalty over taxi. Transit time accounts for waiting and transferring time.
The total travel time required to use airport transit is compared to the uncongested midday travel time of a taxi. Congested taxi travel times were used for some notoriously clogged cities, such as Jakarta and New York. The transit time is based on a traveler arriving at the airport (the largest international terminal, to be precise) in midday, and waiting one-half the vehicle frequency for the next ride. The same method is used to estimate time for any transfers, including any shuttles required to access the transit station.
Seattle offers Sound Transit Link light rail service between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle. It performs in the middle of the pack (31st out of 50) on the transit time penalty, but much better on frequency (tied for 10th out of 50). Link is in the ball park for light rail airport service, although a bit on the slow side compared to the taxi alternative. Light rail and subway systems can offer much better frequencies than the other types of airport transit because they pool demand from a variety of high-demand, all-day sources. As an extra bonus, although not accounted for in the rankings, a variety of destinations in the metro area can be reached as frequently from the airport as downtown. Dedicated airport transit services, even at the largest airports, don’t generate sufficient ridership for sub-10 minute frequencies. In that aspect, Seattle is blessed that its airport is along a natural corridor of transit demand.