Letter to Mayor Bloomberg RE: Natural Gas Buses

The Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

We are writing to you to draw your attention to reports that New York City may be reconsidering its commitment to natural gas buses for the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) franchise bus fleets. Throughout three mayoral administrations, New York City's natural gas bus program has been a national leader in the move to cleaner transit buses-and has provided significant air quality and health benefits in every borough and community in the City. We strongly urge you to publicly commit the City to continuing down the natural gas path established by your predecessors, rather than adopting a diesel approach that will compromise air quality and the health of City residents and visitors.

Dozens of health studies demonstrate clearly that diesel emissions are harmful to our health. The small particulates (soot) in diesel bus and truck exhaust are a recognized trigger for asthma attacks, especially affecting vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Recent studies provide evidence that airborne pollutants generated by diesel-powered vehicles also cause cancer and premature mortality.

Thousands of New York City residents pay a heavy price for New York City's air pollution problem. Local asthma hospitalization rates for children are alarmingly high, with an average of over 6.4 hospitalizations per 1,000 residents. These figures are two to three times higher in the city's low-income communities. Between 1988 and 1997, asthma hospitalization rates in New York City increased by 22 percent, with the largest increases seen in children from low-income communities.

Making New York City's air healthy to breathe cannot be accomplished without a commitment to change-as exemplified by the NYC DOT commitment to natural gas buses in recent years.

Since the mid 1990s, the New York City Department of Transportation has followed an unwritten policy of buying only compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and no new diesel buses - a policy solidly grounded in the dramatic emissions reductions and air quality benefits of CNG over diesel buses, and in the realization that purchasing additional diesel buses once CNG infrastructure is in place simply does not make economic sense. This policy has resulted in the deployment of 354 dedicated CNG transit buses, comprising 28% of the total fleet and the construction of three CNG fueling depots in Queens and Brooklyn.

The CNG buses in service today (operated by Command Bus, Queens Surface, and Triboro Coach) have provided clean, reliable service and have symbolized a solid commitment to clean air by City government. Current plans include the development of three additional fueling stations in the Bronx (New York Bus) and southwest and central Queens (Green Bus and Jamaica), and the purchase of approximately 350 additional CNG buses through 2005, including 157 Express CNG buses scheduled for delivery in 2004, and 163 local CNG buses which are scheduled for purchase in 2005.

The planned fueling stations - for New York Bus, Green Bus and Jamaica - are to be located in communities of particular importance for clean fuels progress, due to their high pediatric asthma hospitalization rates. These communities identified as "priority areas" by a broad coalition of government agencies (including the NYC DOT, the US Department of Energy, and the US Environmental Protection Agency), local political leaders, community groups, and environmental advocates at the recent National Alternative Fuels Day and Environmental Summit, held in the Bronx on April 11, 2002. New diesel buses for these franchise bus fleets, and diesel facilities to fuel them, will likely result in a minimum of 10-12 more years of toxic and lung-choking emissions for communities that already suffer disproportionately from transportation-related air pollution.

We would like to meet with you or appropriate members of your staff to discuss our concerns about the health and environmental impacts that could result from the change in DOT's approach to buying new buses. We are well aware of the initial costs of a CNG transit bus program However, ending DOT's "buy-CNG-only" approach would not save much money over the long haul, and would likely result in significant environmental and health impacts and their associated costs. We have already developed a coalition comprised of local utilities, private infrastructure developers, community groups, and clean fuels advocates that are willing to work with you to take advantage of numerous local, state, federal and private funding opportunities that will allow the City to keep the goal of no new diesel buses for DOT in place without significantly burdening its budget.

We look forward to hearing from you, and working with you to maintain DOT's successful CNG bus program.


Craig Wilson, Associate Director of Envir. Health, American Lung Association of New York State
Joanna D. Underwood, President, INFORM
Rich Kassel, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
Mark Caserta, NYC Policy & Advocacy Director, New York League of Conservation Voters
Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney, NYPIRG/Straphangers Campaign
Robert D. Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association
Omar Freilla, Program Director, Sustainable South Bronx
John Kaehny, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives
Jon Orcutt, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Peggy Shepard, Executive Director, West Harlem Environmental Action

Cc: Deputy Mayor Marc V. Shaw
NYC DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall
NYC DOT Deputy Commissioner Robert Grotell
City Council Speaker Gifford Miller
City Council Transportation Committee Chair John Liu
City Council Environmental Protection Chair James Gennaro

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