By Richard Steinberg
Last month the New York State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo teamed up to pass the boldest set of clean energy legislation in the country. By setting a goal of transitioning to a 21st century zero carbon economy with a specific emphasis on disadvantaged communities, we can build a more just, equitable future for our region.
While this bold leadership on the state level is key, it’s up to local governments, community groups and transit agencies to roll up their sleeves and put solutions in place.
One place to start is by expanding and electrifying our transit system. Right now our transportation system is the leading source of climate pollution in Erie County.
In addition, the health impacts of vehicles cause thousands of premature deaths each year. Those impacts are real here in Western New York, where Erie County received an “F” rating for air quality according to American Lung’s State of the Air Report.
In fact, the Buffalo region is among the top 25 asthma capitals in the nation, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
With New York State soon making funding from the Volkswagen diesel settlement available, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has the opportunity to purchase new electric buses at little to no additional cost. In fact, due to the lower maintenance costs of electric buses, NFTA can actually save money over the vehicles’ lifetimes.
These savings, coupled with new state funding, also provide an opportunity to expand transit access and increase reliability in the communities that need it most. Driving a car is not only polluting, but for low-income residents the cost of the vehicle, gasoline, insurance and maintenance can be prohibitive. By increasing access and reliability we reduce pollution from personal vehicles while also helping people get to work, school or medical appointments.
Other parts of the state are already moving forward with electric buses. Later this year, Rochester will have the first electric bus pilot program, Tompkins County has ordered three electric buses, and New York City’s MTA has committed to a transition to 100% clean electric buses by 2040.
Buffalo should be a leader in the clean transportation future, not falling behind. More than 21 Western New York leaders have come out encouraging NFTA to purchase electric buses and state legislators have fought hard to allocate more funding for NFTA. It’s time for the NFTA and Executive Director Kim Minkel to make a public commitment to do their part.
Richard Steinberg is a member of the Sierra Club Niagara Group. This piece was co-authored by 11 other officials from various transit ridership and environmental groups in Western New York.