Home MTA Politics MTA looking to become even greener with new environmental campaign

MTA looking to become even greener with new environmental campaign

by Benjamin Kabak

The Coney Island/Stillwell Ave. terminal uses solar panels on the roof as an alternative source of energy. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Earlier this week, the MTA joined the growing chorus of environmentally minded political and corporate entities when it launched its very own sustainability initiative. By now, the details of the initiative and the members of the Sustainability Commission have proliferated throughout the regular news sources: Cityroom, Gothamist, New York 1.

On its surface, a green MTA represents a very smart political move in an era when our society is finally focusing on the environmental dangers we will be facing in the very near future. But there’s more to this announcement than meets the eye. More on that in a minute.

First, what’s the MTA doing? Take it away, press release:

The Sustainability Commission will develop a master set of recommendations that will help reduce the ecological footprint of MTA operations and capital programs and minimize the impact of the MTA on ecosystems in the MTA region and Northeast Corridor. The commission will cast a wide net, looking at everything from energy use and waste management to transit-oriented development and green, high-performance buildings.

Part of the commission’s mission will be to identify sustainability initiatives that have both environmental benefits and financial benefits. These financial benefits can take a number of forms, including cost savings from the use of new technologies or revenue from an agency’s green venture.

Among your typical “How can we reduce our carbon footprint?” questions, the MTA will tackle is this interesting one: What role can the MTA play in promoting smart-growth strategies and transit-oriented development? Of course, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander extolled the virtue of this very worthwhile program. “This is a unique moment both globally and here in New York, with more and more people focused on sustainability and living greener lives,” Sander said. “As we advocate for a sustainable future based on increased transit usage, the MTA is doing its part to make sure our transportation network operates as sustainably as possible.”

But while cleaner-fuel buses, energy-efficient stations like the Coney Island terminal pictured above, and the use of wind power in some facilities are all well and great, the MTA is already doing more than we realize for the environment in New York City. The MTA, by virtue of its public transportation mission, is already a very green organization.

New York City Transit shuttles around millions of people every day. These millions could just as well clog up the air with exhaust for their cars if they chose to forgo commuter rail, buses or subways in exchange for the singularly American experience of driving in 38 hours of traffic per year. Without the myriad buses and subways, New York City would be a cesspool of pollution, and the best example of a dystopian New York City can be found in the smog of Los Angeles.

I certainly will applaud the MTA for taking a green initiative. Clean-air buses, like those in, for example, San Francisco, more subway service, green bus rooftops: These would all serve to make our city environmentally more healthy, and I look forward to reading the Commission’s recommendations come Earth Day 2008. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the MTA is already green. So keep riding those subways. The city’s air and your lungs will thank you later on.

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Christopher September 19, 2007 - 4:32 pm

Indeed, a public transportation agency is by definition green, and we can applaud their green projects. However, I learned at a recent Green Drinks event from a transit employee that in terms of energy efficiency, the MTA doesn’t have much incentive to improve because they get a sweet deal on electricity from ConEd. I haven’t researched this independently, but if the main market driver for green behavior, i.e. escalating energy prices, is absent from the MTA’s thinking, they will only make token efforts (a solar roof here, a green roof there) rather than seriously reconsider the energy efficiency of their activities.

brooklyn gal September 19, 2007 - 5:33 pm

I’m all about the progressiveness and forward thinking of this, but, as you mentioned, the MTA is already pretty green. I’d rather they spend the money elsewhere.

Alon Levy September 20, 2007 - 1:58 pm

Actually, Christopher, the fact that the MTA doesn’t have to worry about being green is good for the environment. If it did, it would have to increase fares, or reduce subway service, or ask for a state bailout that would come at the expense of capital construction. Any of those would move people away from the subway and onto clogged expressways.

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