Op-ed | Plugging in to electric buses and a cleaner, greener New York

MTA Chairman Pat Foye with Executive Vice President of Subways Demetrius Crichlow (left) at the Columbus Circle station on May 16.
Photo by Mark Hallum

As New York emerges from this unprecedented public health emergency, another crisis looms on the horizon in the form of climate change. We at the MTA are committed to addressing this existential threat. 

One way we can all do our part is by choosing cleaner, greener public transportation. Every year, the MTA avoids a net 17 million metric tons of greenhouse gases through its operations, and riding with us is the key reason why New Yorkers have the lowest carbon footprint per capita in the nation.

This is the magic of mass transit: it benefits those who use it and even those who don’t, by providing cleaner air for everyone in the region. 

But we can do even better by further reducing diesel use in our operations wherever possible. The MTA was already committed to purchasing only all-electric buses by 2028 – now we’re ramping up that commitment in our next bus purchase order.

At Governor Cuomo’s urging, we’re now buying 60 zero-emission buses, 15 more than we had originally planned — a 33% increase. To provide more perspective, that’s four times larger than our last electric bus order. The new mini fleet will operate in each of the five boroughs and we expect the first of those new buses to roll onto the streets of NYC late next year. 

The MTA is serious about delivering on the promise of a zero-emission fleet by 2040. We already operate 25 all-electric buses, and the historic 2020-2024 Capital Program includes $1.1 billion in funding to buy another 500, along with required charging infrastructure at eight of our depots.  

As we’ve learned from our current zero-emission pilot, operating these vehicles requires significant power and infrastructure. To provide the kind of resiliency and redundancy we need, we’re partnering with the New York Power Authority to install more than 50 overhead chargers at five locations citywide to support the new buses. 

Beyond the obvious environmental impact, modernizing our infrastructure in this way will also provide overdue improvements in terms of social equity. The majority of our bus depots in the city are located in low and moderate-income communities, with routes running disproportionately through these neighborhoods as a critical lifeline for residents.

Conversion to an all-electric fleet will help to significantly improve air quality by reducing emissions — which in turn will reduce asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases.

We have a once-in-a-generation infrastructure opportunity with the Biden administration in Washington to advance our climate goals, and we thank President Biden, Secretary Buttigieg and our hometown hero, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, for their leadership in this area. They have made clear that climate change, accessibility and equity are key priorities. 

Those have also long been key priorities at the MTA, and with their critical backing, we can take our efforts to the next level and lead the nation in sustainability — as we always have — to leave a better planet for our children and their children, and generations to come.

Patrick Foye is chair and CEO of the MTA.

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