The Massachusetts Port Authority is offering a discount on the express buses that serve Logan Airport from the suburbs and on its central parking garage, with the goal of curbing traffic congestion at the airport as leisure travel rebounds.
For the same reason, Massport is also adding more frequent service for its Logan Express shuttles from Framingham and Braintree, while restoring the shuttles from Woburn and the Back Bay.
The changes show how Massport is adjusting to the sharp downturn in business travel that has lingered for more than a year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Leisure travel is bouncing back, but corporate trips might never recover from the coronavirus. And while business travelers typically travel to the airport solo, leisure travelers are often dropped off and picked up by friends or family members, which means more car trips.
Dan Gallagher, Massport’s director of aviation business and finance, warned Massport’s board of directors on Thursday that if these trends continue, as air service recovers, traffic congestion at the airport could soon be worse than it was before the pandemic because of the high level of pickups and drop-offs and an anticipated strong recovery in Uber and Lyft trips.
“The shift from business travel to leisure travel means we’re seeing a pretty big increase in pickups and drop-offs at the airport,” Lisa Wieland, Massport’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We want to get ahead of that.”
Toward that end, the Massport board on Thursday approved a new rate schedule that reduces the cost of the suburban Logan Express bus trips to $9 each way from $12, if tickets are purchased online. (Parking in Logan Express lots stays the same, at $7 a day.) The Back Bay bus fare stays at $3 to Logan, and free on the return trip. The board also approved a discount for a limited number of spots at Central Parking, to $25 a day, from $38, if secured online in advance. That’s an effort to help make up for the loss of $29-per-day spaces at the economy garage, which remains closed for now, and to cut back on the pickups and drop-offs. The new rates take effect on July 1 and will stay in place through the end of the year.
Buses from Woburn, the Back Bay, and Peabody were suspended at the start of the pandemic, while service from Framingham and Braintree was cut to one trip per hour. Now the Woburn bus has resumed service, with Back Bay returning next month. (There are no plans yet to bring back the Peabody bus.) By sometime this summer, possibly as soon as July, Massport wants to have all buses running once every half hour.
Wieland said Massport’s cautious budgeting, the uptick in leisure travelers, and a recent infusion of $129 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act are allowing her to increase service and lower the rates.
Before the pandemic, business travelers made up about 40 percent of passenger volume at Logan each year. Now, that number is closer to 5 percent, Wieland said. Air travel is rebounding, though traffic at Logan is still about half of what it was two years ago.
Passenger volume is still on track to hit 18.5 million for the fiscal year that begins in July, up from 11.7 million in the current 12-month period, she said. But it’s still a far cry from the 40-million-plus who used the airport each year before the pandemic. And big questions remain about the resumption of international flights, and overseas business flights in particular.
The agency has trimmed jobs in the past year, cutting its full-time staff to about 1,090 today, compared with 1,350 a year ago, and is looking for other ways to adjust to the prolonged downturn in flying, Wieland said.
“We’re still being prudent in our planning while we’re optimistic,” she said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty.”