5 Things New York City Can Do to Reduce Emissions Today

NYC TLC Picks Nissan NV200 As New Taxi
New York City/Getty Images

We recently encountered a study saying big cities like New York could cut auto emissions by 94% with the right mix of autonomous cars, electric vehicles, and ride-hailing apps. Since the robo-car tech and charging infrastructure is not ready for prime time, the projected date was 2030.

That got us thinking about what a place like New York City could do to slash emissions significantly today. Sure, we’re not ready for autonomous EV taxis, but there are a number of things that could make a huge dent in the smoke billowing from passenger vehicles every day. Mayor de Blasio set a goal for an 80% emissions reduction in the coming decades.

Needless to say the time has come to start working toward that goal. Here are five things New York City can do today that would dramatically reduce the amount of auto emissions in America’s biggest city.

1. Set minimum MPG for public cars.

You may have heard the Taxi of Tomorrow could make up as much as 80% of New York’s cab fleet in the coming years. The big plus of the Nissan NV200 is its handicap rider accessibility; its big negative is a fuel economy of 24 mile per gallon combined. Considering how many hybrid vehicles are in service and how many more are coming to market, we have to think we can do far better than the national average for miles per gallon.

We’re not saying 40 miles per gallon, but why not 30? By starting there for every new taxi, Uber, or car sharing vehicle going into public use around the city, you would see a substantial dip in auto emissions.

2. Install public EV charging stations.

eric schaal
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

In our recent test of the Kia Soul EV in Los Angeles, we marveled at the availability of charging stations in the City of Angels. Ownership of an electric car is not a huge burden for consumers in LA, and public chargers are about half the battle. They are virtually nonexistent in New York outside of expensive parking garages.

Put EV charging stations on the sidewalk and in public (i.e., free) parking spaces and you would see people adopt electric vehicles as their vehicle in the city where short trips are the norm. Car sharing services and taxi companies could likewise get EVs or plug-in hybrids for users, effectively slashing the amount of emissions compared to the gasoline car it would replace.

3. Get a working taxi hail app.

Adam Berry/Getty Images
Adam Berry/Getty Images

Taxis cruising around looking for a fare are wasting gas and spewing emissions into the New York air. A great improvement of Uber and other ride-hail services is the ability to use an app to send directly for your vehicle, cutting down on the waste.

How do New York taxis not have this feature after so many months of being beat up by Uber? A new app called Arro aims to change that beginning in September, but we’ll believe when it see it rolled out and used by New Yorkers. For now, we have to marvel at the void and the inability for riders to share cabs and save money, not to mention emissions. The system is woefully out of date.

4. Rethink the Taxi of Tomorrow.

NYC hybrid taxi
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

We’ve already touched on the weaknesses of the Taxi of Tomorrow — its fuel economy — so we feel obliged to offer an alternative. Start with the Toyota Prius and its 50 miles per gallon, which will be improved upon in its next iteration. Imagine what doubling the fuel economy of even 25% of New York’s cab fleet would do for emissions.

Since the weakness of many vehicles is the lack of handicap accessibility, you could begin a call service (or app feature) for anyone in need of the NV200. Better yet, follow guideline No. 2 and get EV charging stations in place. There is an electric version of the Taxi of Tomorrow that could be mixed into the fleet. With that model, you get a huge reduction in emissions in a handicap-friendly ride. The best of both worlds, by our estimate.

5. Force Uber to carpool.

Spencer Platt Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Remember how Mayor de Blasio wanted to put a cap on Uber growth to limit congestion? That sounded like a good idea for keeping emissions under control as well, considering there is no limit to the economy of such vehicles when they enter the public fleet. By many accounts, de Blasio gave up plenty to Uber and got nothing, at least for the time being.

Here’s an idea: Make new Ubers carpool. Getting more bodies into every car will limit the environmental impact and congestion issues. We don’t want to offer advice to the mayor on negotiating, but we’d certainly keep that one in our back pocket. It’s enough to make you breathe cleaner just thinking about it.

Here are a few more: Make every new Uber be a hybrid or EV. Or make them build some charging stations. Sticking a few chargers in new public garages (OneNYC’s plan) will get New York nowhere. Electric cars are the future, and we have to get it started somehow. Otherwise, we see a very congested, toxic future ahead.

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