GELF Transporation Comments to NYS Climate Action Council

Comments of the Green Education and Legal Fund
to the Transportation Advisory Panel of the
NYS Climate Action Council
March 3, 2021

Dear Transportation Advisory Panel,

The Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF) is a nonprofit that works to promote the green movement, embracing the values of ecology, social and economic justice, nonviolence, and grassroots democracy.

GELF supports a transportation policy that emphasizes the use of mass transit and alternatives to the automobile and truck for transport. We call for major public investment in mass transportation, so that such systems are cheap or free to the public and are safe, accessible, and easily understandable to first-time users. We need ecologically sound forms of transportation that minimize pollution and maximize efficiency.

Meeting the requirements of the new climate law, CLCPA, will require a reduction in vehicle miles traveled: that is, people will have to get out of their cars and onto public transport, bicycles (or other micro-mobility devices) or their own two feet.[1]

Massive subsidies to the auto and fossil fuel industries, as well as an unworkable approach by urban planners, maintain the auto’s dominance of our cityscapes. The present-day approach of upgrading streets to accommodate increased traffic generates new traffic because access is now easier, and people will now take jobs further from their homes or purchase homes further from their jobs. Some people shift from public transit to private cars due to the trip time in cars being shorter. As patronage for public transit decreases, public transit loses funding, becomes less viable, and service deteriorates thus encouraging even more people to use their cars.

Mass transit needs a lot of money, far more than state lawmakers agreed to in 2019. One committee convened by the Governor and State Lawmakers put the capital costs just for the MTA at $60 billion.[2] There is also a need to improve and strengthen bus service in the city – and statewide.[3]

NYC has more than two million cars. Transportation in NYC accounted for 29.7% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Gasoline is by far the largest contributor to transportation GHG emissions, with approximately 80 percent of the total, followed by diesel with approximately 16 percent, and electricity (mass transit) with approximately 4 percent.[4] (NYC’s overall carbon footprint is the third highest for a city on the planet.[5])

The transportation sector emissions showed by far the greatest growth in New York State, with emissions increasing by nearly 20% from 1990 to 2015. This is due to an increase in the consumption of gasoline and diesel fuels associated with an increase in vehicle miles traveled in New York State.”[6]

As will all climate initiatives, any program to address transportation must be done in a way that centers environmental justice, racial justice, Indigenous rights, and equity. It’s also necessary that impacts on women and youth are prioritized. It is critical that disadvantaged and frontline communities receive a minimum of 35% of the funding and are centered in the policy strategies as they are most harmed by the impacts of pollution and climate change.

Some solutions being proposed within the CAC are concerning because they either do not help us achieve the goals of the CLCPA in the required timeline, or they do not prioritize disadvantaged communities to the greatest extent possible. These false solutions are listed below, and I would urge this panel not to recommend these policies:

Reduce the use of cars and other vehicles

Strategies to reduce the demand for travel need to be drawn up at all levels of government. These would aim to stimulate and support the development of new and more locally provided products and services to provide a basis for modal shifts, including those that remove the need for travel through the use of telecommunications. They would also include measures to generate demand for these through pragmatic steps to directly influence behavior, including education, training and support (mobility education).

Transport planning should follow a prioritization of modes of transport to produce a sustainable transport system, namely”

Walking and disabled access.


Public transport (trains, light rail/trams, buses and ferries) and rail and water-born freight.

Light goods vehicles, taxis and low powered motor cycles.

Private motorized transport (cars & high-powered motor cycles).

Heavy goods vehicles.


The planning of all transport infrastructure should be done at the most local appropriate level and in a fully democratic manner, involving full and open public consultation.

To reduce the need to travel, transport planning must aim to create mixed-use developments (e.g. shopping with housing and small business premises, etc.). The development and retention of local facilities must be supported through planning and financial measures.

NY should require the use of life cycle assessment and the Best Practicable Environmental Option approach for appraisal of transport infrastructure developments. These should be linked to sustainable development policies

Making Walkable Neighborhoods

Perhaps the best way to reduce emissions from transportation is to focus on solutions that do not require the use of an automobile – such as creating walkable neighborhoods. In Manhattan, only 22% of residents even own a car because it is easier to walk, use transit, or bike. NY needs to build tens of thousands of new apartments and housing units designed to create walkable neighborhoods.

Other steps include:

  1. Create and enforce pedestrian-first policies.
    2; Target vehicular speeds to support safe and comfortable pedestrian travel.
    3: Make communities walkable by improving the first mile/last mile connection. Improving walkability citywide is largely determined by how well walkable spaces interact with other forms of activeor sustainable transportation.

Investing in walkable cities, whether through allocating funds to repaint pedestrian walkways or building affordable housing close to downtowns, also attracts diverse populations and creates jobs. According to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, 63 percent of millennials and 42 percent of boomers would like to live in a place where they don’t need a car. And according to the National Association of Realtors, 62 percent of millennials prefer to live in a walkable community where a car is optional. If cities seem less automobile-dependent, chances are they are more appealing to a range of ages.

Walking also costs the city very little, unlike cars and even public transit.

People also tend to spend more money in walkable cities, stimulating the local economy. A 2008 report of San Francisco’s downtown found that public transit users and walkers spent less on each trip downtown but made more frequent trips, which meant they spent more money overall. Those in cars spent more money on one trip but frequented downtown less.

One also needs to address suburban / rural sprawl as well as promote bicycles.

People also tend to spend more money in walkable cities, stimulating the local economy. A 2008 report of San Francisco’s downtown found that public transit users and walkers spent less on each trip downtown but made more frequent trips, which meant they spent more money overall. Those in cars spent more money on one trip but frequented downtown less.

The National Association of City Transportation (NACTO) notes that in years past, the national city planning standard addressed people walking as an afterthought, which is why NACTO builds design guides to direct cities on how to become more pedestrian-friendly.

Promote Pedestrians and Bicyclists

Make streets, neighborhoods and commercial districts more pedestrian friendly.

Enact the 3’ Safe Passing Law to establish that a motorist must give bicyclists three feet of space between the bicycle and a vehicle when overtaking a bicyclist on the road.

Require AMTRAK and other train services in NYS to allow roll-on bikes.

Increase the greenery of streets.

Utilize traffic-calming methods, where the design of streets promotes safe speeds and safe interaction with pedestrians. Create auto-free zones.

Develop extensive networks of bikeways, bicycle lanes and paths. Include bike racks on all public transit.

Maintain free community bicycle fleets and provide necessary support for cyclists.

Adopt Vision Zero statewide. Vision Zero is the vision of a future without any traffic fatalities or severe injuries, while continuing to increase safe, healthy and equitable human-powered transportation. Core principles include: Traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable; Human life and health are prioritized within all aspects of transportation systems; Acknowledgment that human error is inevitable, and transportation systems should be forgiving; Safety work should focus on systems-level changes above influencing individual behavior; and Speed is recognized and prioritized as the fundamental in crash severity.

Dramatically increase funding for Mass Transit statewide

Interstate and Intrastate Rail systems would help decarbonize long-distance travel, including reducing the use of airplanes. We need to expand mass transit, including light rail and buses, including upstate.

Rebuild MTA Infrastructure: The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) needs to invest at least $100 billion over the next decade in order to repair and upgrade tracks, stations, signals, and cars and expand transit services to underserved areas in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

Free or Reduced Fares to encourage the use of mass transit.

Electrify Transportation: Build an electrified rail and road transportation system across the state that includes recharging stations for electric vehicles, convenient and affordable intra-urban mass transit, inter-urban rail for intermediate distances, and high-speed rail for long distances.

Fund Public Transportation in New York City and throughout the state with:

  • Congestion Pricing
  • For-Hire Vehicle Trip Surchargeson taxis, Lyft, Uber, etc.
  • Progressive Carbon Taxthat uses part of the revenues to protect low- and middle-income households and part for investments in public transportation and clean energy
  • New York City Land Value Tax:Recapture for the city treasury the unearned increase in land values and rents due to social investments in transportation, infrastructure, housing, and business development.
  • Tax the Rich:More progressive income taxation
  • Stock Transfer Tax:Stop rebating 100% of revenues to stock traders.
  • Public Bank:Low-cost loans from a state-owned public bank

Other mass transit recommendations include:

Redirect resources that currently go to enhancing auto capacity into expanding human-scale transit options.

Encourage employer subsidies of transit commuter tickets for employees, funded by government Congestion Management grants.

Use existing auto infrastructure for transit expansion where possible. Light rail could be established in expressway medians through metropolitan high-density corridors.

Include land use decisions in transportation issues, with consideration of the need for mass transit to have a market and be viable, and with attention paid to cross commuting the practice of people commuting to a place where they could and should live.

Make transit passes tax-deductible to encourage workers and businesses to use public transport and make employee parking a taxable benefit.

Transfer ownership and operation of all intercity railroad trackage currently under control of freight railroads to responsible and adequately funded public agencies, as is done with highways, to provide for efficiency and safety of all rail traffic.

Clean Cars by 2025 – Increase EV Charging Stations

A number of years ago I helped draft the Off-Fossil Fuels Act / 100% Renewables by 2030 Act. The bill included a provision that all new vehicles in the State be carbon free by 2025, similar to Norway. Senator Schumer’s national clean car initiative seeks to have all new cars carbon free by 2030. The state should adopt policies as least as ambitious as Sen. Schumer.

We support increasing financial subsidies to purchase electric vehicles and to greatly expand EV charging stations.

Cuomo announced a 10,000 EV charging stations goal in 2018 — his administration aiming to “make ownership of gasoline-powered vehicles obsolete.” The state appears to be lagging in the effort. Just getting to Cuomo’s goal will require construction to proceed over the next 14 months at a rate more than double the past year. And even if that threshold is met, clean energy boosters say the state needs to be more ambitious to cut transportation emissions to the level required under the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

A few years ago, New York had fewer than 2,000 separate public charging locations — a quarter of the roughly 8,000 traditional gas stations that dot the state, according to federal and state data. The state is behind in the rollout of fast chargers at service areas on the Thruway, a project that has languished for years and wasn’t complete by the 2020 target

New York remains far short of its 2025 goal to get 850,000 zero emission vehicles on the road as part of a multi-state agreement signed in 2013. There were about 56,000 of the vehicles registered in New York state as of October 2020, according to state data.

Factors such as cost parity with traditional fossil fuel vehicles, the number and availability of different models including SUVs or crossovers, and federal and state incentives are all likely to play a big role in the rate of adoption.

Other car-related recommendations:

Place a moratorium on highway widening, appropriating funds instead for mass transit and facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Mandate HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes on freeways, and lower tolls for carpools.

Discourage unnecessary auto use by eliminating free parking in non-residential areas well served by mass transit and establish preferential parking rates for HOV.

Regularly increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to levels which truly challenge automakers to improve the state of the art, using the fuel economy performance of vehicles worldwide for reference. Eliminate the distinction between cars and light trucks, the footprint loophole, the E85 loophole and the 8500-pound exemption. Eliminate the perverse incentives for alternative fuels that increase the nation’s petroleum consumption. Enact a Fee & Dividend system on the carbon content of gasoline, Diesel fuel and E85.

Enact a fuel-economy-based sales tax that creates a significant incentive for people to select more efficient vehicles, and for automakers to make them available in the United States.

Lead by example, using government procurement to put more high-efficiency and alternative-fuel vehicles into service.

Electrify truck stops, freight terminals and loading docks. Enact and enforce anti-idling regulations. Idling engines consume nearly a billion gallons of gasoline and Diesel fuel and emit ten million tons of carbon dioxide annually (2007 data).

Encourage carpooling programs, telecommuting, and other creative solutions to reduce commuter traffic congestion.

Include Transportation in a comprehensive carbon tax, not a limited cap and trade program (TCI)

In 2015, GELF helped draft carbon tax legislation (A77 Cahill / Parker).  The various options in the bill (e.g., price of carbon, how to invest the proceeds) were selected bill after surveying several hundred climate change activists – we adopted the positions with the most support. The proposed carbon tax would start at $35 a ton (should be increased in view of DEC carbon value) and then increase in annual increments of $15 a ton up to $185 a ton. 60% of the revenues would be rebated to low- and moderate-income consumers. The remaining forty percent will support the transition to one hundred percent clean energy in the state, to support mass transit to reduce carbon emissions, and to improve climate change adaptation. Such funds shall include payments and subsidies for renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency measures, improvements in infrastructure, improvements in mass transit capacity, agricultural adaptation measures, protection of low-lying areas including coastlines, and emergency responses to extreme weather events.

We recognize there are differences of opinions as to how to best invest the revenues: offset the regressive nature of any energy tax; do a 100% rebate of the tax to consumers (e.g., 100% fee and dividend); invest in the transition to renewable energy; and to meet other social needs such as job creation. The issue of what revenue options the legislature agrees to is less important than adopting a carbon price high enough to effectively reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted.

The Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA) developed by NY Renews would raise $15 billion per year from corporate polluters and uses it to create good, green jobs, invest in frontline communities, and build a renewable economy for New York State. One-third of the funds raised will go to community-based organizations in frontline communities for local programs like community-owned solar, making homes, apartments, and schools more energy-efficient, and investing in adaptation infrastructure. Additional funds will be available for current fossil fuel workers and host communities.

Research shows that the CCIA would create and sustain over 150,000 good, green jobs over the first decade. The CCIA includes strong labor provisions, including prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements. People in frontline communities, formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, women in non-traditional trades, and people coming off of unemployment will be prioritized for jobs building our renewable economy.

New York already has a limited carbon pricing scheme through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for electrical production. However, the Congressional Research Service[7] concluded that the pricing was set too low to have any significant impact on reducing carbon emissions. It is presently around $6 a ton. The emission reductions resulted from invested the proceeds from auctioning the carbon permits into renewable energy.

We are not supportive of the approach by the Transportation and Climate Initiative to introduce a limited carbon pricing to transportation, supporting instead the economy wide approach of a carbon tax. We especially oppose the possibility of expanding RGGI to transportation, giving its poor track record with electricity production and emission reductions. Cap and trade programs are subject to market manipulation and often shift the pollution burden to poorer communities and nations, which is why they were condemned by Pope Francis. The controversy of cap and trade for electricity in California was perhaps the major factor in blocking Mary Nichols from being selected by President Biden as EPA Administrator.

Green Transit Green Jobs

The ElectrifyNY coalition has introduced the Green Transit Green Jobs  proposal. One bill requires all new transit bus purchases starting in 2029 to be of zero-emission buses (ZEB). The second would create contracting incentives for public transit agencies to procure these buses from manufacturers that utilize labor from high-need communities within New York State and create good green jobs.

This legislation will help decrease air pollution and protect New Yorkers’ health, while also helping to achieve the GHG emissions reduction goals in the CLCPA (which is too slow in its timetable). By transitioning all the buses in New York to zero-emissions electric vehicles, transit agencies would eliminate 900,000 metric tons of CO2 and save approximately $870 million in health costs.

The value of zero-emission buses in combating climate change is enormous. According to Bloomberg researchers, approximately “270,000 barrels a day of diesel demand will have been displaced by electric buses.” Experts estimate that the total greenhouse gas savings of converting all buses at 900,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is the same as removing over 190,000 passenger vehicles (or 2.2 billion miles driven) from New York’s roads for one year.

The “Green Transit” component would task the New York State Department of Transportation with facilitating this conversion. NYSDOT would be explicitly tasked with considering ZEB purchasing in the disbursement of their five-year capital plans and would also help coordinate non-MTA transit agencies on purchasing, installation, and sharing of services.

The timeline included in the bill mirrors a commitment that the MTA has already made to purchase only electric buses starting in 2029. Other transit agencies, including the Capital District Transportation Authority and Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, have already launched pilot initiatives or are planning to do so shortly. Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed similar principles in his 2020 State of the State address, calling for five of the largest upstate and suburban transit systems (CDTA, RGRTA, NFTA – Buffalo, Suffolk County, and Westchester County) to also take steps to shift to zero-emission bus fleets.

There are approximately 8,500 transit buses in New York State, most of which (5,800) are controlled by the MTA. There are at least twelve transit systems across New York State that have a minimum of 25 buses, and many more with fewer than that.

Green Transit Green Jobs also means more local, good-paying jobs because it will encourage electric bus manufacturing in New York and will contribute to the growth of a green economy that no longer exacerbates the risk to public health and our climate. There are 8,500 transit buses in operation throughout the state and transitioning all of them to electric vehicles will greatly improve the health, environment, and economy of the entire state and its people.




[4], table 1, p. 14; also p. 24


[6] – page S8