Op-ed | MTA needs Washington’s help for a greener fleet

MTA New York City Transit President Richard Davey
MTA Chair & CEO Janno Lieber, NYCT President Richard Davey, and FTA Region 2 Administrator Stephen Goodman at Coney Island Yard on Friday, Feb 3, 2023 for a demonstration ride aboard an R211T subway, which features open gangways.
Marc A. Hermann / MTA

It’s not every day the president of New York City Transit gets invited to the White House, but then again not every administration is as focused on mass transit as Joe Biden’s.

I was in Washington this month for a roundtable on clean bus manufacturing coordinated by the White House Climate Policy Office, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The reality is the industry is in a bind when it comes to meeting our ambitious climate goals. Right now, there simply aren’t enough American manufacturers that can produce all the zero emissions buses the MTA — and transportation agencies across the country — are looking to buy. New York City Transit (NYCT) alone needs to purchase thousands to fulfill our pledge of a 100% clean bus fleet by 2040, and we’re prohibited by federal law from buying outside the United States.

Something’s got to change, which is why Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval Carter and I presented initial recommendations at the White House for ways to strengthen American bus manufacturing and increase capacity to meet market demand.

There’s no time to waste. I mentioned the 2040 goal already, and another part of that pledge is to reduce MTA’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 85%. Transitioning our 5,800-strong bus fleet to zero emissions vehicles is essential to that goal, and to cleaner, better bus service for more than two million New Yorkers who rely on our network every day – a ridership greater than that of the next three largest bus agencies combined.

We’re already making good progress. NYCT and MTA Bus Company currently have 1,300 low-emissions buses in the fleet, including 399 second generation hybrid buses that run on battery-only electric vehicle (EV) mode a portion of the time, which helps to significantly cut down on fossil fuel usage; and 15 all-electric buses.

This fall we expect 60 more battery-run electric buses to begin arriving at depots across all five boroughs, with priority given to environmental justice communities so these green buses can make the greatest possible impact right away. And we’ve already placed an order for the next batch of 205 battery buses, thanks to $116 million in federal grant funding received via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Now we just need to make sure those orders can be fulfilled to get the greenest bus fleet in America on the road.

Richard Davey is MTA New York City Transit president.