The thing that we like about City Councilwoman Julia Harrison is that one rarely, if ever, has to ask her, "What do you really think?" The Democratic Councilwoman from Flushing didn't hold back last week when asked to comment on a Court of Appeals decision that would allow the Port Authority to use funds generated from the Passenger Facility Charge to construct the controversial AirTrain.
Said Councilwoman Harrison, "I wasn't surprised at all by the decision. I certainly think the AirTrain is a fraud, a consumer fraud."
A consumer fraud? The AirTrain? In downtown Jamaica this train is being heralded as the key to an imminent economic revival. The Greater Jamaica Development Corp. is talking about building a major hotel here that will house the thousands of people who will arrive by subway and transfer to the futuristic monorail that will take them directly to the terminal of their choice. Is Harrison playing the role of the spoilsport or is the Port Authority pumping air up the Jamaican skirt?
While we would like to believe the propaganda put out by the Port Authority, we fear that the councilwoman has come closer to the truth. The Port Authority has moved swiftly in putting up the foundation for the monorail. And it now appears that opponents of the AirTrain - vmany civic groups in Queens - have struck out in their attempts to derail the train in the courts.
The only thing that could kill the AirTrain now is the hundreds of thousands of passengers who use Kennedy Airport on a regular basis. If they choose not to ride the train, if they are unwilling to carry luggage from a subway car to the monorail connection, the AirTrain will become one of the most costly mistakes in modern urban history.
We have yet to see a study that shows riders will use the AirTrain any more than they used the Train to the Plane. Eventually the consumer - the passengers who fly in and out of Kennedy - will be forced to subsidize the AirTrain, even if they arrive by taxi or limousine. Eventually the public will demand a one-seat ride that will connect passengers to Manhattan and to LaGuardia Airport.
Until then, the Airtrain will most likely be, as Harrison said, a consumer fraud of enormous dimension.