MTA’s all-electric bus pilot rolls out to B32, M42 and M50 routes

The MTA has begun a three-year pilot of 10 all-electric buses in an attempt to reduce emissions from its current fleet, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

The agency is slated to roll out the first of the buses Tuesday, and — so long as the pilot is successful — plans to purchase an additional 60 zero-emission vehicles. In addition to being more environmentally friendly, the buses are quieter and would expand the availability of modern amenities like Wi-Fi and USB charging ports.

“As we overhaul and reimagine the MTA, we have an opportunity to not only modernize our bus fleet but to also reduce emissions that impact the environment and public health,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. “This new program helps the MTA secure a cleaner and greener future while leveraging the latest in innovative advancements to push New York’s transit systems into the future.”

The MTA has about 5,800 buses in its entire fleet, according to the MTA. Of those, roughly 3,400 buses run on ultra-low-sulfur diesel, while about 1,700 buses are hybrids and another 700 run on compressed natural gas, or CNG.

Electric buses are still largely unproven across the United States. Models are typically expensive, have limited mileage-per-charge, and face problems running in extreme weather when it takes a good deal of energy to heat or cool their interiors, according to a recent Reuters report.

The MTA conducted a four-year study of global best practices before launching its pilot and will hope to collect “actionable data on what works best in New York’s metropolitan environment,” the governor’s news release said.

The MTA has leased five buses from Proterra, which will run on routes in Brooklyn and Queens, including the B32. The other five buses, from New Flyer, will operate on Manhattan’s M42 and M50 routes. The agency plans to charge the buses during either midday or overnight hours at charging stations that will be installed at respective agency bus depots, but also along the buses’ routes.

For Proterra buses, the “en route” charging station will be installed in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. New Flyer buses will have two en-route charging stations: one on East 41st Street and another at Pier 83 off West 43rd Street.

The leasing of the five Proterra buses and related charging stations cost the MTA about $4 million in total, while the lease with New Flyer will cost $4.9 million.

The MTA has faced pressure from city lawmakers, namely Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn), who have advocated for the agency to purchase enough zero-emission buses to accommodate commuters disrupted by the 2019 L train shutdown. But that would likely require the purchase of hundreds of buses at a much faster rate.

“This is a great first step, but we can aim bigger in the roll out of electric buses,” said Espinal in a statement. “Aiming bigger will improve our city’s air quality and drive us toward realizing our carbon reduction goals. I look forward to working with the Governor, MTA, and advocates in continuing the conversation on how we can do more to maximize on the change electric buses will bring.”