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Big decline in flyers, commuters causes $3B drop in revenue for Port Authority

Passenger traffic was down 73% at LaGuardia Airport

Passenger traffic was down 73% at LaGuardia Airport in December compared with a year ago, the Port Authority said. The airport's new east concourse is shown on Feb. 28, 2020. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The cost of so many staying home during the pandemic was estimated by the Port Authority at about $3 billion over 2020 and 2021 as the number of commuters and travelers plunged last year.

The new data issued Wednesday are for all of 2020, though the first two months of last year had led the New York/New Jersey agency to expect it was in for a year of record-setting increases. But then COVID-19 strangled travel starting around March, when quarantines became mandatory or advisable for nonessential workers.

Flyers in the metropolitan area appear to have heeded officials’ warnings to stay home to combat the pandemic during the holidays.

The number of passengers decreased about 73% at Kennedy Airport, 66% at Newark Liberty International Airport, and 73% at LaGuardia Airport in 2020 compared with 2019. Still, those figures are improvements over April, when activity sank about 98% from April 2019. The authority said its three airports had served a record 140 million passengers in 2019.

The number of vehicles crossing the Port Authority’s four bridges and two tunnels fell 20% to 97.8 million vehicles from 2019. The drop mainly was due to a 20.4% slide in crossings by cars; truck traffic fell 6.6%. In addition, the number of riders on the PATH system fell 68%.

The seaport, however, was a bright spot. "Cargo activity is expected to remain strong into 2021 as the single outlier among the Port Authority’s facilities," the authority said.

Cargo shipments begin rising last August and September, setting records, "as production factories, retailers and shoppers restocked supplies and prepared for potential regional shutdowns."

No toll or fare hikes were included in the Port Authority’s new 2020 budget, approved in mid-December, though at $7.2 billion, it was cut 15% from the year before.

"The Port Authority continues to work closely with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations to advocate for federal assistance," it said in a statement.

An agency spokesman had no immediate comment on how many decades it may have been since traffic on its crossings and airports fell so low.

Fewer passengers, less traffic

The Port Authority statistics on traffic at airports and river crossings for last year reveal a huge drop at all but the seaport, where volumes edged higher, when compared with 2019.

[Flyers at the authority’s three airports were down 75% in December from a year ago, a figure that was down from the results for all 2020 when they fell 71%.

  • Kennedy Airport down 78%.
  • LaGuardia Airport down 79%.
  • Newark Liberty Airport down 68%.

Traffic at two tunnels and four bridges was down 18.9% in December versus a year ago, and a 20% drop for all of 2020:

  • Automobile traffic down 20.4% in December.
  • Truck traffic rose 1.9% in December.

Seaport traffic was up 21.3% in December, a much bigger increase than the 1.5% rise for all of 2020.

Source: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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