Link at SeaTac/Airport Station

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.

Airport Transit Graph

Transit Service Type Transit Time Penalty* (Minutes) Average Frequency (Minutes)
Airport Express Rail 3 17
Subway/Metro 15 8
Light Rail 16 11
Regional Rail 18 24
Seattle (Link) 21 10
Express Bus 25 32
Bus 50 32
Multi-modal 53 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.

The best transit times compared to taxi are by far airport express rail.  The average time penalty is three minutes, and all five airports with a travel time advantage for transit have airport express rail.  These systems may run on regional rail tracks or an extension of a subway system (or even magnetically levitate), but are distinguished by express service and a separate branding identity.  In some cases a legacy rail line ran near the airport, but many of these are new-build dedicated rail lines connecting airport and central city.  The frequencies are not exceptional (every 17 minutes on average), but due to high travel speeds they are very competitive with driving.  These systems are primarily in Asia, with London, Sydney and Philadelphia also members of this exclusive club.

Bus transit systems are objectively speaking, from the traveler’s point of view, inferior to rail, both from the time penalty and frequency point of view.  In theory, a non-stop airport bus using the same highways as a taxi could be quite time-competitive, but in practice it rarely works out that way due to low frequencies or indirect routing (Melbourne is an exception).  It seems that bus service doesn’t inspire the level of airport ridership that can drive frequency on an airport express bus.

The quality of airport transit options varies significantly by region of the world.  The Americas offer the worst transit service to airport travelers.  Australia and Europe consistently provide the most competitive transit.  Asian airport expresses are the world’s best, some saving you time over taxis, but the average is brought down by a few laggards such as Manila, Mumbai and Chengdu.  Seattle’s Link performs quite well compared to the American averages, with a 10 minute shorter time delay and 17 minute shorter headway.  In fact, Link is in the range of the Asian average instead of the US.

Region Transit Time Penalty* (Minutes) Average Frequency (Minutes)
Australia 6 13
Europe 8 17
Middle East & Africa (Istanbul & Dubai) 11 19
Asia 19 14
Seattle (Link) 21 10
US 31 27
Other Americas (Toronto & Sao Paulo) 39 14

(*) Time penalty over taxi.  Transit time accounts for waiting and transferring time.

The table below provides rankings for the 50 largest airports.  I have uploaded the source spreadsheet here, which includes lots of additional details, such as terminal connections and fares for transit or taxi.

Airport Size Rank Airport Transit Type Total Transit Time (minutes) Transit Cost Taxi Time (minutes) Taxi Cost Transit Time Penalty (minutes)
1 Atlanta Subway/Metro 21 $2.50 13 $30 8
2 Beijing Airport Express Rail 47 $4.42 31 $16 16
3 London Heathrow Airport Express Rail 24 $32.00 34 $107 -11
4 Tokyo Haneda Subway/Metro 30 $3.00 21 $65 9
5 Chicago O’Hare Subway/Metro 48 $5.00 26 $44 22
6 Los Angeles LAX Express Bus 55 $7.00 26 $50 29
7 Paris CDG Regional Rail 36 $12.75 30 $55 6
8 Dallas DFW Regional Rail 90 $2.50 24 $48 66
9 Jakarta Express Bus 98 $2.17 70 $10 28
10 Dubai Subway/Metro 12 $0.68 12 $12 0
11 Frankfurt Regional Rail 22 $5.75 16 $40 6
12 Hong Kong Airport Express Rail 29 $13.00 31 $41 -2
13 Bangkok Airport Express Rail 49 $2.35 45 $12 4
14 Denver Express Bus 76 $11.00 33 $62 43
15 Singapore Subway/Metro 37 $1.70 20 $21 17
16 Amsterdam Regional Rail 26 $5.35 21 $69 5
17 Guangzhou Subway/Metro 60 $1.15 39 $20 21
18 New York JFK Regional Rail 47 $12.00 37 $52 10
19 Madrid Regional Rail 32 $7.00 18 $38 14
20 Istanbul Express Bus 55 $5.00 33 $20 22
21 Shanghai Pudong Airport Express Rail 35 $8.90 41 $28 -6
22 Miami Subway/Metro 30 $2.25 11 $24 19
23 Phoenix Light Rail 33 $2.00 14 $19 19
24 Las Vegas Bus 53 $2.00 16 $29 37
25 Houston Bush Bus 93 $1.25 24 $52 69
26 Kuala Lumpur Airport Express Rail 38 $10.80 43 $15 -5
27 Seoul Incheon Airport Express Rail 64 $4.95 60 $54 4
28 Charlotte Bus 32 $2.00 15 $25 17
29 Munich Regional Rail 51 $14.30 30 $77 21
30 San Francisco SFO Subway/Metro 47 $8.25 22 $53 25
31 Sydney Airport Express Rail 25 $14.80 17 $32 8
32 Rome Fiumicino Regional Rail 47 $19.00 32 $55 15
33 Orlando Bus 51 $2.00 21 $39 30
34 Barcelona Regional Rail 41 $4.10 16 $32 25
35 Toronto Pearson Multi-modal 59 $3.00 25 $57 34
36 London Gatwick Airport Express Rail 56 $32.50 60 $176 -4
37 Delhi Airport Express Rail 30 $2.40 26 $3 4
38 Shanghai Hongqiao Subway/Metro 34 $0.80 19 $13 15
39 New York Newark Regional Rail 53 $18.00 36 $46 17
40 Minneapolis Light Rail 29 $1.75 20 $35 9
41 Tokyo Narita Airport Express Rail 72 $28.00 59 $194 13
42 São Paulo Multi-modal 80 $3.15 37 $34 43
43 Seattle Light Rail 41 $2.75 20 $40 21
44 Detroit Bus 113 $2.00 24 $43 89
45 Manila Multi-modal 94 $1.23 22 $5 72
46 Chengdu Bus 87 $1.65 30 $8 57
47 Philadelphia Airport Express Rail 40 $6.50 18 $29 22
48 Mumbai Multi-modal 100 $0.26 39 $7 61
49 Shenzhen Subway/Metro 64 $1.50 47 $18 17
50 Melbourne Express Bus 26 $16.00 21 $40 5

82 Replies to “Airport Transit Rankings – How Does Link Stack Up?”

  1. Congested taxi travel times were used for some notoriously clogged cities, such as Jakarta and New York.

    Stats 101, folks. You can’t do that.

    Which cities? You can’t just hand-wave and say “some”. It basically invalidates every number you’ve given for taxi travel time.
    Did you account for street traffic congestion vis-a-vis bus times? For example, to New York LaGuardia, which has no rail option.
    What about rail congestion? You used LIRR travel time as part of the JFK calculation—last time I went to JFK via transit, I sat outside Jamaica Station for 15 minutes waiting for track congestion to clear.

    The correct way to convey the information you desire is with a combination of scheduled time and mean actual time + standard deviation.

    1. I think what’s being said is that they are comparing midday taxi rides with midday transit. in some cities like NYC or Jakarta, to avoid congestion, you’d have to try to get to the airport at 3am to avoid congestion. While in Jakarta, that’s probably not entirely unreasonable—my (distant, childhood) memories of having lived there include having to catch flights at zero dark 30—but in NYC, not so much. Yes, I agree that the wording sucks, and that you can do something better with (considerably) more work, but I think that this gives a fairly useful baseline.

      1. William, depending on where in the city (or even Manhattan) you’re coming from, a midday taxi ride might experience zero congestion.

        Especially important to note that a lot of businesses are in Brooklyn, either established firms at places like MetroTech or small startups downtown.

      2. Actually, no. You WILL experience congestion if driving (or taking a taxi) to JFK at midday from anywhere in New York City, with the exception of some of the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to JFK. Unless, perhaps, it’s some kind of special holiday. Brooklyn’s more congested midday than you think.

        London’s the same way: congestion as far as the eye can see.

    2. One other nitpick–the airport rankings appear to be based on the total number of passengers enplaned (which includes transferring passengers who won’t need a taxi or transit) rather than the total number of origin and destination passengers. Looking at the USA airports, places like CLT, MSP and DTW would likely disappear from a list of the world’s top 50 O & D airports and airports like HNL, BOS or DCA would likely take their places

      1. Did you mean IAD (dulles) for Washington, DC airport? It gets way way more traffic than DCA (Washington National), so I was expecting to see it on this list. Looks like it last squeaked into top 50 in 2007 according to wikipedia. Those two are an interesting contrast: Dulles is an extremely suburban airport, built way out in the farmlands west of the city by planners who knew the suburbs would get there eventually. National Airport is quite urban, tucked right up between DC and Alexandria, forcing flights into a somewhat harrowing but beautiful landing path along the Potomac river, with a sharp banking turn shortly before the landing. Due to DCA’s proximity to such densely populated areas, they keep the number of long-haul flights sharply restricted, and Alaska Air’s exemption for Seattle is the furthest. “Other than 40 slot exemptions, flights into and out of DCA are not allowed to exceed 1,250 statute miles in any direction nonstop.”

        For the transit/taxi comparison: out at Dulles, it’s 1:23 by transit (express bus), 0:34 by taxi (right now, to get there from Farragut West). To National, it’s 0:15 by transit (subway), 0:15 by taxi.

    3. William is correct. The comparison is for midday transit and taxi travel. So peak period transit service is ignored, and uncongested taxi travel times are used, except for a few cities where that didn’t pass the straight-face test (in which I estimated mid-day highway congestion). I don’t have access to stats for travel time probabilities or standard deviations. In fact, for some of the international cities information of any sort was hard to find on the web.

  2. What about the time it takes to walk from the airport terminal to the train? Shouldn’t that be added on top of Link’s 21 minute transit time penalty? Plus, add in the general aversion to having to figure out how to get to the station and the energy expended.

    I’d like to see a comparison for bicycling to/from the airport. In Portland, I biked a few times. It’s pretty much impossible to bike to SeaTac. Do other large cities have ways to get to their airports by bike?

    1. You can bike to the airport. Access the terminal via the sidewalk along the south baggage claim level or from the skybridge at the Link station.

      1. The best bikeable airport I’ve ever been through is Santa Barbara, CA. It’s a small airport, so no gigantic interchange to travel through. Just a small road, with a bike lane, leading right up to the terminal. After 1/4 mile down the road, you can hop on a bike path and get most of the way downtown on trails.

        Newark, on the other hand, you can’t even get from the airport terminal to the on-airport hotel without waiting 20 minutes for a hotel shuttle to carry you 1,500 feet along a busy road lacking sidewalks.

    2. It’s not at all impossible to bike to SeaTac, though you might do some sidewalk riding on the way. The most straightforward way in is through the train station. There are bike racks (near the terminal end of the walkway IIRC), and according to my twitter feed they were recently upgraded to “staple” racks for easy, secure locking. I don’t think the STAS bike lockers work for multi-day trips, but I’d be surprised if many people try to steal bikes from an airport parking garage. Alternately, you can walk directly into the south end of the terminal building from the public sidewalk of 99. I don’t think there are any bike racks in that area, but if you’re riding a folder that you’re going to take with you that might be an option.

      As routes go, there are usable routes from every direction. They largely aren’t great, but they’re no worse than routes to other suburban destinations around here. I’d much rather ride to SeaTac than O’Hare, though I don’t think I’d ever catch a flight that way (it would be rude to my fellow passengers to sweat through a flight, and it’s a long enough trip for me that I’d certainly break a sweat).

    3. I think that compared to other airports… the signage to get from Sea-Tac’s main terminal to the light rail station is quite good.

      But it’s a real slog to actually make that walk. I’m a perfectly healthy 20-something but every time I walk along that long, straight stretch of pavement I think that it would have been the perfect place to put a “moving sidewalk”. I wouldn’t want my grandma to make that walk.

    4. Even if it’s physically possible to bike or walk to the airport, the fact that the vast majority of people don’t know which way to go or if it’s even possible means you’ve already lost that market. I have heard there’s a lower path to get to International Blvd from the airport when Link isn’t running but I don’t see it. I don’t know how to get from the south terminal bus stop to outside, etc.

      1. From the bus stop south of the terminal just keep walking along the sidewalk and you’ll reach International Boulevard.

      2. Years ago, when parking my car at one of the pay lots on 99, I would actually use that sidewalk to walk from the parking company to the terminal because, with minimal luggage, it was actually faster than riding all the way around the giant loop on their shuttle.

    5. “What about the time it takes to walk from the airport terminal to the train? Shouldn’t that be added on top of Link’s 21 minute transit time penalty?”

      Yes. On this measurement, the big winner is Frankfurt (S-Bahn line within 20 feet of the ticket desk), but both Heathrow and Gatwick are pretty good too. US airports are worse. Philadelphia is probably the best, though JFK and Newark do tolerably.

      1. I didn’t find O’Hare too bad, but Midway has a pretty baffling windowless rat maze between the train and the airport.

        Portland PDX is OK in terms of what they did at the airport end, but I still get annoyed every time I go there, and see the huge, vast sprawling glass European grand station style trainshed structure they put there – that only serves the auto and bus lanes. Airport MAX was operating for several years before they finally put a covered walkway between the station and the airport.

      2. d.p. — thanks for the list, I missed it before.

        Unfortunately, the two examples of yours which I knew about personally are, in practice, a lot worse than Frankfurt. I’ve *been through* Minneapolis, and it’s worse than Philadelphia. The Humphrey Terminal stop is buried in the parking garage. Most of the airlines go out of the Lindbergh Terminal, and that stop is just as far from the ticket desks as yours is at Seattle. (The proximity to the concourse is misleading; it’s startlingly far from the ticket desks and the baggage claims.)

        Washington National is comparable to Philadelphia (there’s that one gratuitous road crossing)… except that most flights go out of Dulles.

        I admit to not having visited St. Louis, Portland, Vancouver, or (shudder) Atlanta by plane. Atlanta looks comparable to Denver; the excessively sprawling nature of the airport itself is the problem, rather than the location of the train station.

        St Louis, Portland, and especially Vancouver look pretty impressive, perhaps comparable to Frankfurt. Frankfurt’s still pretty damn hard to beat, though, with the S-Bahn (on a through line!) right inside the terminal, and a second, separate longer-distance through line 500 feet away with an enclosed connection. (I remember reading s

    6. This is my biggest pet peeve with Link from the airport – the walk from the terminal to the train. I don’t mind the long walk, but trying to convince my wife when we are traveling with our small son and all our luggage is a lost cause. Why they don’t at least put a moving walkway from the train to the terminal baffles me. Link should be for all people, elderly, small kids, injured, or those that simply can’t walk that far comfortably.
      I love how the San Francisco airport is set up, you get off Bart and you can take a small connector AirTrain around the airport, to each terminal, the garages, or the rental car center. Saves loads of time, especially when traveling with children or lots of luggage.

  3. SeaTac to Seattle isn’t the only transit option of course.

    After I wend my way to the station, I take the 180 bus back to Kent and then jump on the 168 to my apartment (assuming each of these is running). This ends up saving me a $35 cab or shuttle ride either way, or an $80 weekly parking fee.

    But I don’t know how you would begin to even communicate the other transit options to a person arriving for the first time! Quite frankly, it took me several trips to figure out how to use the poor signage to walk to the station.

  4. São Paulo GRU has express buses as well as a local bus plus metro.

    London Heathrow has both express trains plus underground. The express trains are somewhat faster but less frequent than the underground.

    As best as I can tell only one transportation option was considered, so I’m not sure how well these comparisons work out.

    1. For airports with multiple transit systems, I used the one with lowest total travel + wait time. For Sao Paulo this was the bus + metro (the express bus I found info on only runs hourly). For Heathrow it was the express train. Private express buses are tricky – I generally ignored them unless there were clearly the most reasonable transit to the airport, such as for Melbourne and Jakarta.

      1. The problem with this choice is that in the world’s largest cities, where both a local and an express option exist, more people choose the local train: see PDF-page 28 of this study, giving mode shares for London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, and Chicago. The first three cities have two rail options, one local and one express, and the local gets the bulk of the transit mode share.

        At least in terms of my own mode choice, this is perfectly understandable; when I travel to New York, I make sure to fly through JFK for the easier transit, and unless I am traveling to a Manhattan West Side destination, I take the E rather than the LIRR. The reason is that the E is more frequent; the LIRR comes every 10-15 minutes, which makes it usable, but still less reliable than the E, which comes every 3-6 minutes. (The LIRR also requires extra time for buying a ticket, whereas on the E a MetroCard is sufficient.) I can’t time myself to meet a specific LIRR train in either direction: certainly not when I’m landing, but also when I’m taking off, since I’m getting to Penn Station on the subway, which has somewhat variable travel time. The variability in subway travel time cascades with every transfer, but is especially problematic when there’s a transfer to a less frequent mode.

      2. I see they have raised the fares to R$36.30 or so now on the São Paulo GRU express buses. Not too long ago they were about 1/3 of this, and were the obvious choice because they were only slightly more than the metro + bus option. At that price, the reduced schedule is pretty understandable.

    2. London is tricky because downtown is not at all a single point. The Heathrow Express is, far and away, the fastest way to get to Paddington, but if you need to get to some other point downtown, the time advantage largely evaporates from the overhead of the transfer. For example, from Heathrow Airport to Kensington, the express train and the underground all the way take virtually the same amount time, but the underground is way cheaper (albeit, less accommodating for large luggage).

  5. This is a very useful table. One thing that it doesn’t seem to account for is traffic that taxis contend with. I travel to NY (by way of JFK) twice a month. During the hours that I tend to fly (usually morning and evening rush hour), there is no way that a taxi ride is 37 minutes. Usually it’s about 70 inbound and 90 outbound to my company’s offices on the west side of Midtown.

    Variability is a big win for transit on the way to the airport. People typically plan to leave enough time to get to the airport to make their flight most of the time (say 95%), not on average. (This is unlike a commute trip where it may be OK to be late to work a few times a month.) So, transportation modes that are very consistent — regional rail and express buses in dedicated lanes — have a big advantage over modes like taxis, private cars, and regular buses that are subject to traffic tie-ups. (I’d put light rail and metros somewhere in between.)

    Case in point, I have a colleague who often leaves New York at the same time I do. He prefers to take a car service, and leaves two hours for the trip. (He says the trip takes about 1.5 hours on average, but he needs an extra half-hour in case of traffic.) I take the railroad and leave 70 minutes for the trip — it usually takes me about 60, but there are occasional 10 minute delays. So, taking public transport for this trip saves me 50 minutes (and $50) over taking a car service — a much greater benefit than the above table shows.

    1. Most travelers, even business travelers, have to factor in the cost differences between the different modes. Arriving at Narita, is it worth $166 to save 13 minutes? At Manila, the taxi costs $3.77 more but it saves 72 minutes.

      1. I forgave Manila for having horrible transit options to the airport once I converted the taxi fare into USD.

  6. For SF, BART is a 29 minute ride plus 7.5 minutes of waiting to Powell St (Westlake Equivalent). What produces the 47 minute figure?

    1. Perhaps average wait time for an SFO-bound train?

      I do recall the official estimate—as well as the actual time traveled—being much closer to 47 minutes than 30 the last time I made that trip.

      1. Not necessary. The BART platform eskimo-kisses the international concourses, and the domestic terminals are a shorter walk than SeaTac’s closest-possible skybridge to Link.

        On the other hand, BART runs at 20-minute headways most of the time.

  7. Having traveled a few places my self, the last thing I want to do is deal with a taxi / traffic or a bus after getting out of an airport, having a train that’s simple to buy a ticket for, clearly has its route marked out, and when on the train it’s really obvious what what you’re at. And a bit of room for luggage. I’ll happily trade waiting around a few minutes for something that’s cheap and easy to use.

    The best thing any city can do is operate a rail system from the airport into downtown.

    1. Honestly, Frankfurt is the only city I’ve seen which really does this RIGHT. Look where the S-Bahn station is.

      London does OK. Actually, London does pretty well at T4 and T5. At T1-2-3, it is a bit of a confusing hike from any of the rail stations to the actual terminals, though.

  8. Well, last summer I wasn’t traveling to the airport in the middle of the day, I was traveling very early in the morning to take a 6 am flight. And Link was useless because it does not start running early enough for someone to catch a 6 am flight. Nor does it run late enough for someone returning on a late night flight. Hopefully one day it will be a 24-hour service.

    1. Yes. Whenever you see someone pull out statistics, take a close look at what they are actually measuring. The measures in these graphs do not characterize transit to the airport completely — or even adequately.

      The Link is passable for evening service (I can usually get a flight in early enough), but absolute s**t for morning. It does not run early enough to arrive within the proper window for early flights, and perhaps more importantly, the buses you have to take to get to it (most people aren’t leaving direct from downtown) do not run early enough either. Most people do not use the link to get to the airport because of this.

      1. ‘perhaps more importantly, the buses you have to take to get to it (most people aren’t leaving direct from downtown) do not run early enough either.”

        Yes, I would be taking the #49, which gets downtown just in time to miss the first Link run.

    2. Starting early in the morning is one thing they did well with the MAX red line schedule. Frequency at that hour, well….:
      This is one advantage to having a surface route. Link has huge, expensive stations in the tunnel, and always seems to have security guards around (for obvious reasons). For MAX to have early morning security, you just need one additional person and put them on the train.

      I’m not saying Link doesn’t need the big, metro-like stations (Puget Sound alone has the same population as our entire state) but a true light rail line is quite scalable in terms of offering a lower cost lower capacity option when it needs to have it.

  9. I doubt the quality of this data. Sydney does not have an express rail service… it has what could reasonably be described as either a metro or a suburban rail service. In any case it is all stops, not express, and on a main line, not an airport spur.

    1. I haven’t been to Sydney – but this web site convinced me to classify it as airport express rail:

      Sydney’s airport link is a part of the regional rail system, but has only 2 intermediate stops between the airport & downtown, charges a premium fare, and was constructed specifically to provide express rail service to the airport.

      Several of the airport expresses listed in the rankings run partially or completely on legacy track (either mainline rail or metro systems), but have some combination of express service, longer stop spacing, premium fares and separate branding.

  10. I really appreciate link to the Airport!

    I do think the signage on the platform is lacking. Visitors often ask me which train goes to Seattle. When Angle Lake opens, visitors will be even more apprehensive without permanent large “Northbound to Seattle” signs beyond the typical words as a train pulls in. A countdown sign will also be needed to get people ready to board with their luggage.

    1. It’s pretty funny to see a brand new, multi-million dollar station that needs sandwich boards.

    2. The real-time signs now say “NEXT TRAIN TO SEATTLE” if I remember right. Of course, ST also has unused arrow-lights at TIB station that it could move to a more appropriate place.

  11. From the Loop to O’Hare in 26 minutes by taxi? When are they computing this drive, at midnight? I’ve done that trip many, many times and 26 minutes is the low end of the spectrum unless you like driving 25 MPH over the speed limit (which, it’s the Kennedy, so that’s certainly possible).

    1. Quite a bit slower if you’re coming from the U-District, Rainier Valley, Maple Leaf, Bellevue, etc. Very few people live downtown, so they were usually transferring from a bus to the 194. It was a one-seat ride for people staying in downtown hotels, but not for people visiting the UW or students moving into their dorms.

      1. It’s still not a one seat ride for everyone but the folks from Rainier Valley. It will probably never be a one seat ride for people in Bellevue or Maple Leaf, but it will be a lot better than it is now. It will soon be a one seat ride for those living or visiting the UW, but not an especially convenient one. It is a long walk from the dorms to the stadium — Brooklyn will be closer, to be sure — but not as convenient as say, a station at Campus Parkway.

        While I think a substantial number of people will take a one seat ride to the airport once U-Link (and North Link) are complete, I think more people will take two seat rides, whether those rides involve a cab ride or another bus. I think from a travelers standpoint, the big advantage of light rail is (as Warren said) higher frequency, greater reliability, and extended hours. These are all very important for airport travel. There is another advantage, and that is that it easier to move luggage onto and off a train. I think that is why plenty of people will ride the train from Bellevue to the airport, even with a transfer. Finally, a train is simply more visible and has a more pleasant reputation. There are plenty of uncomfortable trains in the world, and plenty of comfortable buses, but generally speaking, in this county, most people associate trains (especially newer trains) with a nicer, more enjoyable, easier to manage ride.

    2. Also the 194 did not run as frequently and/or as late. So I always ask people, would you prefer a faster bus but less frequency or light rail, that takes slightly longer, but runs more frequently and later at night?

  12. This list of airports can be misleading in another aspect. …especially as it relates to the distance from the CBD. Distance from the CBD should have been included. This would have really been a vital clue to better ascertain whether the airport was accesible via pedalcycle. Case and point…Only with the advent of the Maglev train was Shanghai-Pudong able to be competitive in this list. Denver Int’l, which is about as far from the City Center, has a paultry travel time via transit.

  13. Not parallel to the information in the post: Providence (Amtrak) to Logan is pretty much two hours, if you mind the MBTA commuter rail schedule (but this makes it incomparable with the post’s numbers).

    A useful third column may be how long it is from arrivals to the rental car location. Apparently this is bad in O’Hare; the information can help families to decide whether or not a rental car is worth it.

    1. Distance/time to rental car facilities is frighteningly bad in LA and quite bad in Phoenix.

    2. I’ve heard of at some cases where people choose to take transit downtown and rent a car there vs. just renting the car at the airport. This is often done to save money on the car rental by avoiding airport fees. And, if a shuttle ride is required to reach the airport rental car facility and there’s good transit downtown, picking up the car downtown doesn’t even have to have that much of a time penalty.

      1. Seattle is entering this territory. I visited the car rental counter there once, and not only is it expensive and annoying to get to it, the lines were at least 10-20 minutes long at every open counter.

  14. Link is pretty good. It’s better than some airports, where you have to take an intermediary people mover before you get to the real train, like the one in Newark or San Francisco. I prefer to walk the longer distance to the actual station and get on. The fare collection system with the Orca card sucks, as there is no user recognizable paradigm for just checking the card balance. That is where I’d make improvements. As for frequency, it will come when the connection to the University of Washington is opened. The floodgates for ridership will spike radically from there.

    The best connection I’ve used is in Chicago O’Hare, where you can easily board the L train Downtown seamlessly. It’s wonderful.

    1. You can check your ORCA e-purse balance at a TVM. If it’s a registered card, you can also check the balance at the website. When you tap your card at a validator, it will give you your balance.

      Are none of these three methods a “user recognizable paradigm for just checking the card balance”?

      1. Of course, you can see your balance at a pylon only by tapping and then cancelling. How very intuitive.

        Why set up a system to view information with a single swipe, when you can instead do something complicated and laborious to retrieve the same data?

      2. I read the tap-on/ride/tap-off sign on the train one time, coming home from the airport. I’d tapped on for $2.50, then when I tapped off at Westlake, it flashed something about $4.25. I have no idea if I was charged $4.25 extra for some reason, if this was just showing my Orca balance, or what. I’ve been leery of tapping on the machines at the station ever since.

    2. False as ever.

      The closest gates at SFO are just a couple of hundred feet from BART. At SeaTac, it’s 1000 feet just to enter the northern extremity of the building.

      The median gate at SFO is about twice as close as the median gate at SeaTac, even if you don’t bother with the people mover.

      And the furthest gate at SFO, three terminals away, is still closer than you’ll have to walk from Link to SeaTac’s A concourse. Again, even if you ignore SFO AirTrain entirely.

      Of course, you don’t have to ignore AirTrain. That’s still an option. No such luck with Link.

      SFO BART has problems: infrequency, overall crumminess as an urban-access network, and poorly maintained rolling stock. But proximity to the planes is not of them. No people mover required.

  15. Just to piggyback on what CharlotteRoyal said since I think this is a huge point: the distance of the airport from the CBD (or whatever destination they’re using) is really, really important. Since taxis don’t stop in between and can take the most direct route possible, the longer the distance you have to travel overall, the greater the gains the taxi is likely to make in most circumstances, except for cities where congestion is literally an all-day occurrence, which are fairly rare.

    1. Taxis have an advantage for remote airports only if the region has invested more in highways than railways (which is generally the case in the US). Some regions with remote airports (London, Kuala Lumpur) have also invested in railways that allow travel as fast or faster than the highways. Denver will join this club in 2016 when the East Rail commuter line opens to DIA.

      1. I would hardly consider Heathrow a remote airport…it’s within the M25 Ringroad. Also, one can use the Tube to access London City. Back in the US, Denver, DIA, is still largely in the fields outside of Aurora. Munich’s new airport is wayyyy outside of town compared to the old Riem Airport which wasn’t too far away from the City Center, just east of the CBD.

        When Airports like Munich and Denver were constructed in the 80s/90s, they were located way outside of the city because of noise concerns, crash fears, provisions to expand…. However, in the case of Munich, the trade-off was the quick access to the CBD which can be done via Autobahn or S-Bahn (suburban railway).

        One trademark example where this failed was the Montreal-Mirabel Airport. It was located well outside of town (great looking structure), but after a few years of operation in the 80s to mid-2000s, it was largely abandoned. Montreal Mirabel Airport’s problem had been its distance from the City as well as its lack of transportation choices to and from the airport. Instead of replacing the old Dorval Airport, closer to town, it ended up folding on itself. According to many articles on the subject, taxi fares were obscene and airlines slowly pulled out and started returning to the older Dorval Airport. Mirabel will still be used as the fabrication facility for Canadair’s C-Series aircraft and some cargo ops.

  16. You are not looking at the right metric. The major gotcha for rail links is not just rail time but “How far do I have to walk with my luggage to *get* to the rail platform? Indoors/Outdoors?

    CLE is an escalator down a level from Baggage Claim. BWI is at the International end of the terminal. DCA is a short moving sidewalk. Alas, IAD will be a LONG walk.

    1. Atlanta’s short walking distance between baggage claim and MARTA is also wonderful. It’s closer to walk to MARTA than it is to walk to a taxi or private vehicle. That’s on top of great travel time to Downtown. It does deserve the #1 ranking.

  17. 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.

    I totally agree. Systems that feed really well into the rest of the network, or are a bit slower because they serve other, important destinations along the way should have a special asterisk by them (or be judged, subjectively on that criteria).

    In that aspect, Seattle is blessed that its airport is along a natural corridor of transit demand.

    I’m not sure if I agree with that one. Take away the airport, take away the politics that valued a cross border line, and there is no way this line would go any farther than Rainier Beach (if it even went that far). Maybe someday it might go further, but not initially (there are just too many other important places to go). Furthermore, there is about a five mile stretch where there are no stations at all. That isn’t a natural corridor of transit demand. Not by a long shot.

    To be fair, once you get close to the city (Rainier Beach, and especially Beacon Hill) you do have a natural corridor of demand. But I would assume that is true for just about any city that has rail transit (get within a couple miles of downtown and just any corridor is a good one). If anything, folks south of Seattle are blessed from a transit perspective in that there was an airport that served as a logical destination. Otherwise, we probably would have built U-Link and East Link before we got further south than Beacon Hill.

  18. I’m disappointed that Vancouver did not make the top fifty and thus was not part of this list. My guess is that it performs really well. In other words, like everything transit, Vancouver kicks our ass. It is like we are the Sacramento Kings and haven’t noticed that the San Antonio Spurs are really successful. Except that analogy is flawed since Sacramento and San Antonio are so far apart. Seattle, on the other hand, has no excuse for ignoring our nearest neighbor, especially since it is so similar to us.

    1. It’s in another country with a different kind of government and different public expectations. That’s the main reason why we don’t have a world-class transit system like Vancouver’s. Canada has anti-tax, anti-government, anti-transit people too, but they are such a small minority they don’t affect things.

      1. That is so utterly not true.

        Canada’s Overton Window isn’t identical to ours, but the country has tax-averse, fiscally-conservative factions that often wield considerable power.

        The difference is that Canada, with its smaller economy allowing less margin for error, has a rich history of getting projects done right if it’s going to bother doing them at all.

      2. This small minority includes the prime minister, and the premier of British Columbia. Last year’s reelection of the BC Liberals (who are center-right, unlike the federal Liberals) means the province is not going to give a significant amount of money to SkyTrain construction, but is instead going to hold a referendum on spending projects. The referendum may well succeed. This is not because people in British Columbia are less anti-tax than in Washington, but because they’ve seen transit investments produce solid projects. I’m not sure what Seattle’s construction costs are, but in Portland, the Milwaukie light rail extension costs a lot more per unit distance than the fully grade separated, partially underground Evergreen Line.

      3. @Mike — So you are saying that they simply outspent us? If so, then please illuminate me. It would be an interesting comparison (e. g. Vancouver spent twenty billion and got this, while we are busy spending only our first ten billion). I am honestly curious as to how much they spent, what they got out of it, and how that compares to what we have spent (or are in the process of spending).

      4. Ross: The Canada Line — every last inch of it, with two branches and 16 stations over 12 miles, and two different forms of tunneling and two brand new bridges and the airport access in question — cost roughly the same as our 3-mile U-Link, with its mere two stations (one of which is terrible).

      5. Wow, thanks d. p. Pretty much blew Mike’s argument right out of the water. It really doesn’t matter if folks from B. C. are cheap, lavish, liberal, conservative, hate government or love it. They simply got a much, much better system for their money. Kind of like the San Antonio Spurs.

      6. Perhaps a fairer comparison is East Link, which, like the Canada Line, goes a significant distant and connects a bunch of places and crosses water in a couple of different ways. East Link will cost only about half a billion more than the Canada Line.

        Of course, the Canada Line serves every place it serves well, and has been rewarded for doing so with crazy-high ridership. East Link compromises itself into near-irrelevance, and long-term ridership estimates are a bit tragic for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to bridge the Seattle/Eastside gap with full rapid transit.

      7. No question Vancouver is kicking our ass. I was astonished by how much bang for its Canadian buck Vancouver has gotten from its investments in Skytrain compared to our investments in Link. I had assumed they’ve spent gobs more money than we have, but the truth is that they’ve spent less. It really is something to behold and I wish everyone who gives a damn about transit in Seattle would study TransLink closely.

        When ST2 is built out, our compromised system will have cost billions more than Vancouver’s fully grade-separated system, and our ridership, optimistically pegged at around 200,000 weekday, will pale in comparison to Skytrain’s ridership. The 3 lines in operation today already have over 360,000 daily riders. This is before the Evergreen line, reaching beyond Coquitlam, starts service in 2016, and well before plans currently on the drawing board (increasing capacity on the stressed Expo line and building possible Surrey-Richmond and Surrey-White Rock lines) reach revenue service.

        Oh, and the Evergreen line–6.8 miles, 6 new stations plus upgrades to 2 current stations–$1.4 billion CDN. Less than half of East Link and 3/4 of a billion less than Northgate Link. Clearly, the amount of money Sound Transit is spending is not the primary problem.

        What does explain why we’re building an inferior system? I have a couple of guesses. First, greater Vancouver is much denser than Seattle. Everyone here knows this, but it bears repeating. The current Skytrain system, with its 360,000 daily riders and 47 stations, is only a little over 40 miles. ST2, when fully built out, will be over 50 miles and approximately 34 stations, if my math is right, but will have ridership of at least 150,000 fewer per day. It’s simply impossible to provide high quality transit service to low density suburbs, so the majority of people in this region have decided that transit just isn’t that important to them, personally. Forget the votes approving Sound Move or ST2, the true vote on transit is the one people have made with their feet when settling on a place to live.

        Our lower density makes it that much more critical that we get vehicle choice, routing, stations, and connections right if we’re to have a truly effective system. The flip side is that if we mess any of those things up we pay greatly, in bad transit, in wasted dollars, in opportunity costs, and in lack of trust in being able to solve problems collectively. That leads to my second guess about why Link is such a poor performer compared to Skytrain–political will, or more broadly, popular will. We can blame the Sound Transit board–all duly elected officials except for the WSDOT director–for making aggravatingly bad decisions, like locating the Bellevue Transit Center station two blocks from the actual transit station, but ultimately they reflect what we collectively want. I believe that. Not what I want as a car free citizen, or what most of the transit-interested commenters here want, or what transportation professionals believe to be the best choices, but what the low-density living, SOV-loving majority wants. The ST “spine” is transit for people who actually don’t want to take it themselves, but hope others will in the misguided hope that they can then reach the promised land of uncongested, toll-free motoring. Kemper Freeman and the residents of Surrey Downs don’t care that the 405-adjacent Bellevue station is such a missed opportunity, because they won’t use it no matter where it’s located. And putting a station in a shitty location is actually kind of a victory for them.

        I haven’t followed the political process accompanying Skytrain’s construction, but I can’t imagine that TransLink has had to contend with a neighborhood group as religiously opposed to mass transit as Surrey Downs, or as fearful of change and as ignorant of mass transit as the Save Our Valley group. I don’t think TransLink has had to seek compromise in station location from a political body as arrogant and unconcerned with their tax base as the Port of Seattle. Even the University of Washington, an entity critically dependent on transit, fought Sound Transit vigorously over location of the UW station. Maybe the ST Board was feckless in giving in, but no agency that relies on broad consensus can be expected to build an optimal system when it faces opposition at every turn, even from other public agencies.

        What most angers me is this: the UW forced a station location that will forever be a detriment to its students, faculty, and employees, just as the Port of Seattle did when forcing future Link users–Port of Seattle taxpayers–to walk over .3 miles to reach the Airport Parking Garage station. I consider both of these to be egregious acts of betrayal of the public trust. We’ve come to expect selfish, short-term thinking from corporations and other private entities, but our public agencies are supposed to have the public’s long term best interest in mind, and virtually all have failed us. And we let them because when it comes right down to it, we don’t really like transit or urbanism, either. Vancouverites, in contrast, value transit, and actually love living in their city, and it shows in the decisions they collectively make.

        There are some other contributing reasons, I think, but these are the main two that stand out dramatically to me.

      8. I can’t argue with you, Under the Clouds; you’re right. There are places where there is agitation for better service, and then there are places where there is agitation for worse service. Public agencies tend to acquiesce to both. You have to look at what balance of such places you have, if you want to see why you’re getting the results you’re getting.

        There are exceptions: areas with strong advocacy for better service, which nobody really *opposes*, but who don’t get it because they haven’t got the clout. But it looks like the MBTA Green Line will eventually be extended through Cambridge…. so this does seem to clear itself up eventually.

  19. What’s will always keep Sea-Tac’s Link low on my ratings: (1) No moving sidewalk, everybody is assumed to be abled-bodied; (2) the walk to and from Link is subject to “the elements”; (3) the signage to and from Link, and what you need to do (i.e., tap on and tap off), unless it’s changed more recently, is horrible; (4) riding Link to and from downtown is still fraught with issues, such as thefts, collisions by vehicles (due to “going cheap” and building at grade), mechanical issues, etc. on an indirect route to downtown, but basically the only choice, as the comparable Metro #194 was eliminated to provide Link with a captive market.

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