Gov. Cuomo has promised that all transit providers in the state would operate 100% electric bus fleets by 2035.
Reading the MTA’s upcoming Feb. 23 Notice for a Public Hearing to discuss their potential Federal Transit Administration 2021 Program of Projects revealed some inherent conflicts in meeting Cuomo’s goals. Here is the link to the document https://new.mta.info/document/28146.
Under NYC Transit Bus Replacement, there are three projects: (1) T7030216 45 Standard Electric Buses for $54.20 million, (2) T8030201 Standard Electric Buses for $70 million and (3) Articulated All-Electric Buses for $103 million. The (4th) T8030205 Express Buses for $20 million appear to be non-electric.
Under MTA Bus Replacement, there is one project U8030202 for the purchase of 110 Standard Buses for $20.90 million which also appear to be non-electric.
MTA Bus represents the former New York City’s seven private franchised bus operators Green Bus Lines, Jamaica Buses, Triboro Coach Corporation along with Queens Surface providing service in Queens, Command Bus (Brooklyn), Liberty Lines Bronx Express and New York Bus Service (Bronx) whose buses, facilities and routes were transferred from NYC to the MTA in 2005.
It is managed as a separate operating unit from NYC Transit and Manhattan Bronx Surface Transportation Operating Authority bus divisions.
Why is NYC Transit requesting $20 million and MTA Bus requesting $20 million for non-electric buses?
The federal grant application process known as Trams from start to finish can average up to six months. Funding may not be available under an approved obligated FTA grant to MTA until the federal fiscal year fourth quarter (July 1, 2021 – Sept. 30, 2021). The process is under FTA’s Transit Award Management System (known as “TrAMS”) is used to award and manage federal grants.
FTA does offer MTA pre-award authority. This affords MTA the ability to incur costs prior to grant approval. In normal times, the MTA would take advantage of this option. Due to the MTA’s ongoing financial crisis, they may not have the cash flow to lay out money in advance of grant approval.
A procurement process from development of bid specifications, advertisement, issuing of any addendums and opening responses until bids are awarded to a bus manufacturer averages six months to a year from start to finish.
Vendor production from beginning to end for construction, delivery, inspection and acceptance followed by entering revenue service averages two years. Non-electric buses funded under FY 2021 FTA grants to MTA may not go into revenue service until 2024. They will be in revenue service beyond Cuomo’s promised 2035 date for 100% electric bus fleets.
Buses have a minimum useful life of 12 years or 100,000 miles before they become eligible to be replaced under FTA guidance. Many transit agencies including MTA, who have good maintenance plans funded and in place, can operate buses for up to 15 years before needing to replacing them.
If the MTA NYC Transit and MTA Bus are serious about going 100 percent electric, it would be reflected in the MTA 2020 – 2040 Twenty Year Capital Needs Plan.
Gov. Cuomo and the MTA promised that this document would be released by December 2019. It is now 15 months late. Is the MTA refusing to release this document until it receives Cuomo’s blessing?
The MTA also has to update its FTA Bus Fleet Management Plan. This document would include information about future bus acquisitions, fleet size and facility modifications to manage a growing electric bus fleet.
The projects would also be included within the state-sponsored Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (locally known as the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council) Short Five Year and Twenty Long Range Planning documents as well. Cuomo promised the most transparent administration in history. This would include all state agencies and authorities such as the MTA. Commuters, taxpayers and transit advocates expect no less.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office.