Mobilizing the Region

Issue 227 July 2, 1999

Manhattan Still Waiting for CNG Buses

At last week's hearing on federal funding for MTA capital projects next year, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, NY State Assembly members Deborah Glick, Pete Grannis and Scott Stringer, and State Senator Tom Duane joined the Natural Resources Defense Council, West Harlem Environmental Action and many concerned New Yorkers to call for the full implementation of the MTA's 1997 commitment to bring at least 500 natural gas buses to New York City. They also urged the MTA to adopt a "no more diesel" policy for future bus purchases and depot investment.

The MTA is rapidly converting its L.I. Bus fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG), and is waiting for the delivery of 190 CNG buses for its Jackie Gleason depot in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The MTA is also expected to purchase 250 more CNG buses for the Coliseum depot in the South Bronx and the Gleason depot in the fall, for delivery in 2001. The NYC DOT will have over 300 CNG buses on city streets via its franchise operators by year's end, with another 200 on order.

But neither the MTA nor NYC Transit can point to any CNG progress in Manhattan, despite some of the highest particulate soot levels in the nation. Numerous health studies have shown strong links between particulates and increased asthma emergencies, various cancers and premature death. According to the NRDC's "Dump Dirty Diesels Campaign," one out of every 125 Manhattan residents may develop cancer over their lifetimes as a result of breathing current levels of diesel particulate soot, a substance that was declared carcinogenic by the California Air Resources Board last year.

Although the MTA announced last year that the Manhattanville depot in West Harlem would be converted to natural gas fueling, the design work has not begun and the necessary funds were not included in the FY 2000 capital budget proposal. Many speakers at the hearing noted that the MTA committed to begin designing the introduction of natural gas fueling to Manhattan in 1997 and to begin construction in 1999.

Instead, the MTA and NYC Transit are testing the electric hybrid bus whose fuel remains diesel. While the hybrid will improve fuel economy and cut some emissions, there is no evidence that there will be reductions in the unhealthy fine particles at the heart of the public health and environmental concerns about diesel engines.


Officials from the NYC Franchise & Concession Review Committee said recently the city will again extend the lock held by seven private companies on scores of bus routes in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn - despite inspections showing many lines fail to meet standards for cleanliness and on-time service.

The 1989 City Charter revision required the city to put its bus franchises out for competitive bid, but City Hall has expressed little interest in changing the status quo. The city's inaction is often attributed to the more than $100,000 in campaign donations from the companies to city officials since 1994.

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