Op-ed | Public transit does its part reducing NYC’s carbon footprint

Interim MTA New York City Transit President Craig Cipriano
Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Public transportation is one of the most effective tools we have to fight climate change. Every year, MTA services remove 17 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the air by getting people out of their cars – making New York a national leader in reducing carbon footprints.

It’s why we think every week is ‘Climate Week’ at New York City Transit.

I’ve made it a priority throughout my career to expand our agency’s positive impact – because what’s good for the environment is good for the communities we serve.

In my former role as head of the Buses division, I helped develop Transit’s plans to transition our 5,800-bus fleet to all zero-emissions vehicles by 2040. Earlier this year, we ramped up that commitment by ordering another 60 electric buses, which is 15 more than we had planned. They’re expected to hit the streets in all five boroughs late next year, and we’re prioritizing deployment to underserved communities.

This is an exciting step for Transit after spending the last four years piloting and learning from the use of zero-emissions buses in our system. The expanded purchase order this year will more than triple our electric fleet and represents a lot of firsts for the agency: our first fully owned, 40-foot zero-emissions buses, our first partnership with the New York Power Authority to install charging infrastructure, and our first project that requires adding new power supply from our utility partners Con Edison for electric buses.

That’s just the beginning. The historic 2020-2024 Capital Program includes $1.1 billion in funding to buy another 500 zero-emissions vehicles, along with required charging equipment at eight of our depots.

There’s still a long way to go to replace the entire diesel fleet — and install the needed charging infrastructure to support it — but we’re optimistic that with local, state, and federal support we can meet our ambitious 2040 deadline. 

Continued expansion will not only involve our local partners like New York Power Authority, Con Edison and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but also qualified bus manufacturers from around the country working closely with our agency.

There’s no question the future is electric. The entire country, not just the bus industry, is in the midst of a major transformation to zero-emissions. We’re getting on board to protect the environment and improve social equity for millions of people who live in our service area.

Most of our bus depots are located in low and moderate-income communities, with routes running disproportionately through these neighborhoods as a critical lifeline for residents. Moving away from diesel will not only further reduce emissions that harm the environment – it will also reduce cases of asthma, emphysema, and other illnesses that afflict our communities.

The arguments for the need for a zero emissions fleet are not theoretical, as the recent flash flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricanes Henri and Ida proved what were once severe once-in-a-hundred years storms are increasingly becoming more the norm. Let the passing of Climate Week 2021 serve as a reminder of the powerful role mass transit plays in creating a better planet for all of us. Come take a ride with us to be part of it.

Craig Cipriano is interim MTA New York City Transit president.

More from around NYC