With a small rolling suitcase and laptop bag, I left my place in downtown Meriden at around 6:40 a.m. and made the 10-minute walk to the train station on State Street. I was just as excited about the prospect of getting to LaGuardia airport without the use of a car – relying only on public transportation and my own two legs – as I was about a week’s vacation in Florida. I planned to take Amtrak from Meriden to New Haven, then Metro-North to 125th St., then the M60 bus to LaGuardia. While avoiding the hassle and expense of driving and parking at the airport was appealing, I also saw it as a bit of research into ongoing initiatives to make Meriden and other places along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor more commuter friendly.
The need for more frequent rail service became apparent during the planning stages since the timing of my return flight and limited Amtrak service required me to arrange for a car ride back from New Haven. On paper, however, the trip to the airport looked good and would certainly be economical ($6 for Amtrak, $16.25 for Metro-North, $2.50 for bus fare) – if it worked.
I made it to the Meriden station with only minutes to spare before the scheduled 6:59 a.m. Amtrak Northeast Regional. Wishing I’d allowed more time for icy sidewalks, I bought a ticket from the attendant and hurried to the platform. But the train was nowhere in sight. It wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes, as I learned by checking the Amtrak app on my phone. Six other people waited in the cold morning air, plus a few more inside the station, though only five actually boarded. Despite the train’s tardiness, I was impressed by the efficiency of Amtrak’s ticketing system and conductors using handheld devices. “Are you my New Haven?” one asked. I nodded. “Next stop,” he said. I chatted with a woman who boarded at the previous stop in Berlin on her way to Penn Station and then New Jersey to visit her daughter. The railcar was nearly full. For me, the ride took less than 20 minutes.
In New Haven, I bought a Metro-North ticket, deciding to wait for the first off-peak train at 8:21 since I had arrived late but with plenty of cushion in my schedule. The train left on time. I was most familiar with this leg of the trip as a somewhat frequent rider between New Haven and Grand Central Terminal. As usual, the hour-and-40-minute trip started with plenty of room to stretch out but became cramped closer to Stamford. I used the time to work, resisting the temptation just to observe other passengers, maybe strike up a conversation or two. As we approached 125th, I squeezed my way into the aisle and grabbed my suitcase from the overhead rack, careful not to injure anyone. I stood by the door preparing for the biggest unknown for me – the bus to the airport.
I was happy to find the stop a few hundred feet east of the station on the south side of 125th. Service to LaGuardia is clearly marked on the sign. The bus arrived well within the 30-minute window promised by the MTA schedule. By that time, a crowd of about 10 luggage-toting travelers was ready to get on. I paid the fare with exact change since I didn’t know how much I had left on the MetroCards in my wallet. The bus continued along 125th St. straight through the tolls and across the RFK-Triborough bridge arriving outside my terminal in about 25 minutes. I simply followed the signs to the entrance. The only problem at that point was figuring out how to occupy the extra time I had allowed before my flight.
For solo travelers or small groups, public transit to New York airports can definitely be a practical option. Even from these parts.
Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3