Where Do Electric Vehicles Fit Into de Blasio’s OneNYC?

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Environmental advocates waited enthusiastically for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s move on Earth Day 2015, and most did not go away disappointed, as the mayor called for sweeping changes in the city’s sustainability plans. Along with a 90% reduction in landfill waste, new guidelines aim for New York to have the cleanest air of any major U.S. city by 2030. Though more details will come, many questions remain about how electric vehicles fit into the first draft of the de Blasio plan.

Emissions: 80% lower by 2050

De Blasio’s plan has the name “OneNYC” and uses the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC as the starting point for its ambitious goals. Among them, de Blasio’s team set the mark of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050, using 2005 as the base level for comparison. Any visitor to New York may logically wonder how such a feat will be possible with trucks roaring through the city 24 hours a day.

Along with heavy traffic dominated by fossil-fuel vehicles, New York has a remarkably small infrastructure for electric vehicle charging in Manhattan, the city’s most concentrated borough. The OneNYC targets involve changes in energy use in buildings, power generation, and solid waste as well as the obvious need for a shift in modes of transportation.

Unfortunately for those hoping for bold direction on green vehicles, the OneNYC plan is short on concrete directives in its initial form. Clearly, the de Blasio administration is uneasy about interfering with the choices of taxi drivers when it comes to changing transportation habits, something Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to do with unsuccessful plans to electrify the New York City taxi fleet (first with hybrids in 2011, second with plug-ins in 2013).

NYC hybrid taxi
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Electric vehicles to increase in city fleet

As far as concrete emissions reductions go, OneNYC says it will have retrofitted 90% of the city diesel vehicles to 2007 emissions standards or better by 2017, which should help greatly in lowering the amount of particulate matter released into local air. Concerning the 800 plug in vehicles in city operation, the plan calls for the number to hit 1,000 EVs by 2017. City officials also plan to expand the number of chargers available in New York City from 203 to 250 by the end of 2017.

In terms of public charging infrastructure, the de Blasio administration noted that “since the end of 2014, the electrical systems of all new parking garages and open parking lots … must be capable of supporting electric vehicle charging stations.” Yet the lack of available chargers in public lots will continue to hold back EV adoption in the city among residents (as well as cab drivers) looking to charge their vehicles’ batteries mid-shift.

According to a report in City Atlas, a key stumbling block to electrifying the taxi fleet comes back (as all EV conversations do) to range concerns and charging capability. Since most NYC taxis travel 115 miles per average shift, it would require a full charge for an EV to make it through the day. Without a fast-charging system in place, stopping to recharge a battery is not worth the loss in taxi fares.

The de Blasio plan makes many decisions that will reduce emissions, including reducing the amount of trash produced in the city. Without the need for diesel garbage trucks to deliver New Yorkers’ trash out of state, emissions will drop considerably.

Still, reports indicate that changing 4,000 New York City taxis to plug-in EVs would have the effect of electrifying 35,000 private vehicles, so the administration may have to revisit plans similar to Bloomberg’s in order to meet its ambitious OneNYC targets. At least in the first draft of the de Blasio plan, electric vehicles are taking the back seat.