Investing in Electrified Transportation with New York’s Share of VW Settlement Funding

In 2016, Volkswagen settled for $14.7 billion with the Environmental Protection Agency for knowingly equipping vehicles with computer software designed to cheat on federal vehicle emissions tests. $2.7 billion was put into an Environmental Mitigation Trust to be used by states and territories to implement projects that reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The $117 million allocated to New York through this trust can serve as a significant means of support in efforts to electrify the state’s transportation sector.

According to the Department of Energy, in July of 2017, the national average price of electricity was $1.31 dollars per gallon of gasoline equivalent compared to gasoline and diesel at $2.26 and $2.20, respectively. Switching to an electric fleet helps consumers save money on maintenance, as electric vehicles (EVs) require fewer tune-ups and repairs when compared with conventional vehicles. .

New York is already home to 767 public electric charging stations and 1,625 outlets. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to expand access to charging stations city by partnering with Con Edison to identify at least one site within each borough to develop fast charging hubs by 2018. Plugging in is easier and more convenient as electric infrastructure continues to be invested in, and it poses great potential to improve environmental and human health. EVs produce fewer emissions than conventional vehicles, and here in New York, over half of the power used for those electric vehicles comes from zero-carbon sources. Electrification will be beneficial to low-income communities and communities of color who are disproportionately exposed to poor air quality.

Buses pose a particular problem in New York and across the country, as a majority of them run on diesel fuel. Diesel vehicles emit large amounts of NOx into the atmosphere, contributing to ground level ozone pollution. Almost all school-buses run on diesel fuel, and the pollutants they emit can block airways, making breathing difficult. Buses have concentrations of diesel exhaust 4 times higher than in passenger cars, and children are particularly susceptible to its impacts. Because they inhale up to 3 times more air per pound than adults, and tend to be very active, children suffer the most from dirty air. Their lungs are not fully developed and their airways often have a small diameter, which increases the likelihood that particulate matter will get lodged in their lungs and impair their ability to breathe.

Electric buses are reliable and cost-effective alternatives to conventional bus fleets. Analysis done by Columbia University for the City of New York found that changing their entire fleet of diesel buses to electric buses would result in net savings of 575,000 metric tons of CO2e per year. Savings associated with fuel, estimated to be $39,000 annually, would offset the higher up-front cost of electric buses and charging infrastructure. They also found that New York City would save approximately $150,000 per bus in health-related benefits by switching to electric. Earlier this year, the MTA Board approved leasing for five electric buses to run in a pilot program and test how they perform in the City. The electric bus company, Proterra, recently broke a world record by test-driving an electric bus 1,100 miles on a single charge.

Investing in electrified transportation for New York’s children would have an immediate and lifelong impact on our kids, communities, and carbon footprint, and would be an equitable, economical, and environmentally friendly way for New York to invest its share of the settlement.