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New York City Transit and the environment

Every day, each person who chooses to travel by bus or train contributes to a cleaner environment. That translates into approximately 700,000 cars kept out of New York City's central business district daily. It also means 400 million fewer pounds of soot, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other toxic substances released each year into the city's air. Here’s what else we’re doing to improve the environment.

ISO 14001: Environmental Management System

ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization, a worldwide group that defines international environmental management criteria for the manufacture, provision, and distribution of goods and services in a series of standards known as ISO 14000.

An EMS is an Environmental Management System, a structured, measurable method for identifying and measuring an organization's environmental impact. It provides a framework for an organization's environmental programs and goals. ISO 14001 creates an EMS model that the American National Standards Institute has endorsed as the EMS standard for the United States.

NYC Transit, through the efforts of its Department of Capital Program Management (CPM), is the first public agency in America and one of the first transit systems in the world to have an Environmental Management System (EMS) certified to ISO 14001. In short, we created a comprehensive long-term plan to ensure our projects conform to international standards for environmental sustainability.

Benefits include:

  • Improved and enhanced environmental performance
  • Pollution prevention and resource conservation
  • Increased efficiency and cost reduction
  • Employee awareness of environmental issues and responsibilities

Contractor and consultant awareness

NYC Transit's commitment to environmental leadership includes doing business with contractors and consultants who fulfill their environmental obligations responsibly. Through its Department of Capital Program Management, NYC Transit makes sure contractors and consultants understand and conform to our Environmental Management System program.

It's important that contractors and consultants comply with NYC Transit's Department of Capital Program Management environmental policy to:

  • Save natural resources
  • Use less energy
  • Prevent pollution
  • Comply with legal requirements
  • Create positive feelings in communities

People who work with NYC Transit must:

  • Follow contract specifications
  • Comply with environmental rules such as noise thresholds
  • Gain an understanding of CPM's Resource Efficiency/Sustainability efforts
  • Flag possible environmental problems during the project
  • Work with NYC Transit to prevent or alleviate these problems

Sustainable development

Sustainable development supports the concept that economic and social development is complementary to environmental protection. It involves long-and-short-term planning to increase community and business growth and productivity without diminishing the health and productivity of supporting and surrounding natural systems.

NYC Transit's Department of Capital Program Management (CPM) is responsible for design and construction management of roughly two billion dollars of capital construction projects a year. NYC Transit uses significant amounts of electrical power, fuel, water, and construction materials. However, NYC Transit maintains a commitment to sustainability, and continues to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

NYC Transit, through its Department of Capital Program Management (CPM), has implemented many programs that promote sustainability. In December 2003, NYC Transit was the first public transportation organization in North America and one of the first in the world to become a Full Signatory member of the International Association of Public Transport (L' Union Internationale des Transports Publics, or UITP) Charter on Sustainable Development.

In 2000, NYC Transits Department of Buses launched the Clean Fuel Bus Program to improve air quality. In June 2001, former New York State Governor George E. Pataki issued Executive Order (EO) 111, Green and Clean State Buildings and Vehicles. This directive sets goals for green building designs, energy-efficient State buildings, energy from renewable sources, and the procurement of energy-efficient products, and alternative fuel vehicles. All MTA agencies are working in compliance with EO 111 and continuing sustainable development efforts.

Green building program

NYC Transit Capital Program Management's Environmental Management System (EMS) incorporates Resource Efficiency/Sustainability so that all construction projects — from building design to subway expansion — consider these criteria to increase energy efficiency; enhance indoor environmental quality; conserve water and natural resources; and make beneficial use of waste, e.g., recycling programs:

  • Review projects' specifications to replace conventional materials with environmentally "friendlier" resources.
  • Evaluate energy efficient alternative products
  • Consider products with a high-salvage value.
  • Procure local products to minimize transportation energy.
  • Use paints, sealants, and caulking that have low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and minimal off-gas* potential. Low-VOC building materials do not release significant pollutants. *Off-gas refers to VOC emissions into the environment.

Recycled content in construction materials

The Roosevelt Avenue Subway Station project used fly ash to replace up to 15 percent of the cement in the concrete mix. Not only didn't the fly ash become waste product but we also added the unused cement to another project. Specifications for all capital construction projects now include coal combustion fly ash in thick concrete mix to save cement.

Construction waste

NYC Transit has diverted thousands of tons of traditionally landfill-bound construction waste for recycling. The Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Central Maintenance Facility in Maspeth Queens; and the rehabilitated Stillwell Avenue Terminal, Brooklyn; and Subway Station Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street, Queens, rehabilitation projects recycled up to 85 percent of construction debris, including concrete, metal, glass and paper.

Air pollution prevention

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Abatement Systems
Volatile Organic Compounds, (VOC) are pollutants that certain substances emit when they mix with the air we breathe. When NYC Transit installed a bus paint booth at the Grand Avenue Bus Maintenance facility in Queens, we used a green design with a carbon bed to absorb VOC released in air exhaust. A new regenerative thermal oxidizer also controls air pollutant emissions. The new bus painting system in the Grand Avenue facility reduces environmental pollutants as much as 95 percent in comparison with conventional paint spray booths. Now, all of our new paint booths employ the best available control technology.

Automatic fluid application

We are retrofitting paint fluid applications at nine bus depots to reduce the volume of wasted paint in the bus painting process. Reducing paint volume not only saves paint but also means that we need to remove fewer Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) pollutants from air exhausts.

Low-NOx boilers

NYC Transit is replacing old boilers with Low-NOx (Nitrogen Oxides) boilers. Conventional boilers produce NOx emissions that contribute to smog. The Low-NOx boilers reduce Nitrogen Oxides emissions by 70 to 85 percent compared to older boiler equipment. In some instances, we are retrofitting older boilers to burn fuel more efficiently and using a higher-grade of heating oil.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels

Sunlight produces illumination and electricity. In the mid-nineties, NYC Transit began installing solar power units with photovoltaic (PV) panels.

The 300kW system on the roof of the Gun Hill Road Bus Depot in the Bronx is one of the largest PV facilities on the East Coast.

The New Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility, Queens, has a 100kW rooftop system.

The 60,000-square-foot photovoltaic canopy over the Stillwell Avenue Subway Terminal (Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station, Brooklyn) produces 250kW of clean power.

The Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street Station, Queens, produces 65 kW of power using two PV systems: a "conventional" system is on the roof; the second system, comprised of thin-film solar panels, is mounted to the metal standing seam canopy on the elevated subway platform.

Fuel cell

A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy device that generates electricity for powering motors, lights, buildings, etc. Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and heat. This creates power more efficiently, and with less pollution. One of the renewable energy sources at the New Corona Car Maintenance Facility in Queens is a 200 kW Fuel Cell unit installed with support from the New York Power Authority. The Corona Maintenance Facility is expected to exceed the New York State code for energy efficiency by 36 percent, and is the first NYC Transit facility certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standard, LEED™, created by the US Green Building Council.

Natural lighting/day lighting

The Corona Maintenance Facility, and the Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Central Maintenance Facility (both in Queens) use natural lighting to complement or replace electric lighting. The day lighting enters the building through side windows and skylights. Special "Low-e" (low energy) coatings on window glazing allow the transmission of visible portions of solar energy into the building interior while blocking infrared and ultraviolet components of light that would otherwise introduce heat.

In July 2004, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP), in cooperation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), announced the winners of its first Green Buildings Design Competition to demonstrate ways to integrate green building ideas in new and existing New York City structures. The Roosevelt Avenue -74th Street Station received an award for excellence in the use of good design principles and the integration of green building technologies. The New Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility received honorable mention for excellence in integrating sustainable design strategies into a railcar maintenance facility.

Heat recovery units

Ventilation systems use a great deal of energy and are costly because they require bringing air from outside a building and adjusting its temperature to maintain an indoor environment.NYC Transit uses Heat Recovery Units (HRU) in many projects to reduce a building's ventilation energy load. When it is cold outside, an HRU recovers heat from outgoing air by using a heat exchanger to preheat fresh incoming air, which the HRU system distributes throughout the building.The roof of the Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Central Maintenance Facility in Maspeth, Queens, has 34 ventilation and heating units. The facility's heat recovery application runs warms air exhausts past the cold winter air that the ventilation system must constantly bring in because of bus fumes and exhausts. Heat conductors warm the fresh air enough to save approximately 48 percent in heating energy costs.

Natural ventilation

Buildings that have natural ventilation do not need as much air circulated mechanically; this lowers energy consumption and results in a healthier and greener environment. NYC Transit believes that the best approach to new building ventilation is a mixed mode of natural and mechanical ventilation, where both systems work independently or simultaneously, depending on the climate and season, among other conditions.

Water conservation for subway car and bus washing

The Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Maintenance Facility has a bus washing reclamation system with a 200,000-gallon underground tank that stores rainwater collected from the roof of the building. The system uses the water to wash buses, and recycles 80 percent of the wash water for non-potable uses.

The Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility has a rainwater collection system to drain rainwater into a 40,000-gallon underground storage tank, then sends this water to a subway car washer.

Asset recovery and environmental sustainability

In 1996, NYC Transit created Asset Recovery to consolidate all of NYC Transit's waste management, recycling activities and non-hazardous material disposal responsibilities under one management group within the Division of Materiel. Asset Recovery is responsible for ensuring that Transit's system-wide waste disposal, recycling, and material sales programs are managed in a safe, timely, cost effective, and environmentally responsible manner and conform with the provisions of Title 5A of the Public Authorities Law as well as Transit's sustainability policies and practices.

The Asset Recovery staff manages the system-wide waste disposal, recycling and sales programs listed below, designed collectively to Reduce material consumption, Re-use materials whenever possible, and Recycle unwanted material for reusable products.

Refuse and recycling

Two methods used for recycling Transit's refuse are:

  • Source Separation Recycling involves all NYC Transit offices including office sites at train yards, bus depots and other facilities. In 2012, 753  tons of recyclables were removed from more than 100 locations.
  • Post-Collection Recycling entails the removal and recycling of materials from the 469 subway stations in the transit system. In 2012, NYC Transit's subway stations yielded 6,801 tons of recyclables-approximately 50 percent of all refuse removed from the system-and one of the highest recycling rates in the United States.

Non-hazardous industrial waste disposal and recycling

In 2012, Asset Recovery removed more than 1,135 tons of non-hazardous industrial waste, such as spent chemicals, oily rags, ether canisters, paint and paint booth residue, contaminated soil, and sludge from subway track drains. It also recycled 62,487 gallons of used antifreeze from buses and non-revenue vehicles.

Scrap commodity management and recycling

New York City Transit recycles tons of scrap each year: heavy steel, copper, brass, scrap rail, subway car wheels, motors, generators, lead acid batteries used in bus and subway-car maintenance operations-- even subway cars and buses! We also recycled 437,670 gallons of waste oil in 2012. That same year, Asset Recovery sold 30,814 tons of scrap material, which resulted in more than $7.85 million for the organization.

Obsolete desktop computer equipment and other miscellaneous electronic equipment

All of NYC Transit's electronics, including CRTs, CPUs, keyboards, mice, printers/plotters, servers, laptops, etc, are recycled in compliance with environmental regulations; there were 96 tons of materials disposed and recycled in 2012.

Surplus material sales

NYC Transit, the largest public transit system in the United States, sells a large inventory of surplus and used material each month. Among the items: computers, photocopiers, furniture, and heavy construction equipment. NYC Transit even offers railroad ties, bus and subway car parts, and entire buses and subway cars for sale.

If you don't have room for a bus, visit NYC Transit's Memorabilia & Collectibles Page for a piece of New York history that's smaller and more affordable. Purchase a farebox, subway station sign, vintage tokens, etc. You probably won't find items like this elsewhere, and you'll be helping the transit system. NYC Transit has realized gross sales of $31 million since 1996, with more than $3 million in sales in 2012 alone.

Rejected materials management

Just as you may have had to return unsatisfactory merchandise, NYC Transit does the same on a much larger scale. Rejected material shipments, including over shipment, shop rejections and receiving rejections, had an accounts payable value of roughly $6.9 million in 2012. While the program's primary function is to keep rejected materials out of Transit's supply chain, it also provides feedback about vendors to NYC Transit for quality control

Artificial reef project

Disposing of obsolete subway cars in the ocean to create habitats for marine life and recreational fishing exemplifies a creative solution by Asset Recovery to sensitive disposal issues. NYC Transit provided 2,580 retired subway cars to Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland between August 2001, and the project’s completion in April 2010. NYC Transit steam cleaned the subway cars after stripping them of components that float (oils, solids, etc.) and decompose. Then the cars were loaded on barges and "buried" at sea.

Conserving electricity

ENERGY STAR is an international standard for energy efficient electrical equipment created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992. The European Union, as well as Japan, Australia, Canada, and other countries have adopted it.  Most electrical equipment that NYC Transit currently purchases is ENERGY STAR rated.

Light Emitting Diode signals

NYC Transit has been replacing its incandescent train signaling lights with highly efficient light emitting diode (LED) Signals. Using LED signals means a 60 percent savings in energy compared with traditional incandescent light. LED lights improve brightness 150 percent, and they decrease greenhouse gas emissions substantially since the LED signals lower electrical demand and production. LEDs also have an extremely long life, which reduces landfill use and saves labor.To date we've replaced 47,000 of our 60,000 signal lights with LED.

Fluorescent lighting

We are replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs in subway stations throughout the system. When NYC Transit switched to T12 fluorescent bulbs, station lighting increased 750 percent and power consumption decreased 28 percent. An additional change to T8 bulbs kept lighting as bright as before, but reduced our energy use by an extra 26 percent.

Compact fluorescent bulbs replaced conventional incandescent light in tunnels because the compact bulb design fit the same sockets. Compact bulbs offer the same benefits as longer fluorescent light tubes and have increased tunnel lighting 500 percent with just a modest power increase of 11 percent. What's more, since each compact fluorescent bulb consumes four-to-six times less energy than an incandescent bulb, the compact bulb yields 1,300 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime of 7,500 to 10,000 hours. Overall, station and tunnel lighting upgrades have made stations and tunnels brighter, safer, more secure, and more comfortable, and save NYC Transit $4.8 million a year.

Systems power reduction

NYC Transit began surveying depots, yards and other facilities in the 1990s in collaboration with the New York Power Authority to reduce power in our heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. NYC Transit completed more than 45 projects between 1993 and 2007 and now saves close to 50 megawatt hours of electricity annually – that's upwards of 30 tons of CO2 emissions avoided every year.

Subway car shunting elimination program

In 1996, NYC Transit began the Subway Car Shunting Elimination Program, one of its most successful energy conservation projects. By modulating the acceleration rate and limiting the top speed of the 5,800-car subway fleet, NYC Transit reduces energy use per subway car mile by 12 percent and saves 240 million-kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Regenerative braking

The fleet of New Technologies subway cars (also called New Millennium Trains) has regenerative braking. Braking action feeds energy back into the Third Rail that would otherwise be lost as heat when the train stops. These R-142, R-142A, R-143, and R-160 subway car-models run on the  routes.

Aluminum rail

Since aluminum is a better conductor of electricity than steel, NYC Transit is experimenting with two kinds of aluminum third rails to save energy: an all-aluminum rail with a stainless steel cap on its contact surface; and a steel-and-aluminum hybrid rail that has a steel base and aluminum cladding on its sides. Aluminum is also lighter than steel, which means aluminum-component rails are easier to handle, install, and replace than conventional steel rails.

Green escalators

NYC Transit is introducing escalators that slow down and use "sleep mode" when not in use. A sensor recognizes a customer's approach, and the escalator gradually increases its speed. We estimate that each "green" escalator in the New York subway system can save 17,122 kilowatts of power a day, a yearly savings of $1,883 per escalator. Since certain parts of green escalators may last between 11 percent and 33 percent longer than traditional escalators, they are expected to save maintenance and repair costs over time.

Water conservation

Storm water management program

MTA New York City Transit created a Storm Water Management Program (SWMP) in accordance with United States Environmental Protection Agency requirements for storm water regulations under the Federal Clean Water Act. The program establishes procedures to reduce pollutants caused by storm water runoff at NYC Transit facilities. Pollution control measures include construction-site runoff controls, spill response and prevention, and waste management. See more about our storm water management program.

Rainwater collection and "gray water" re-use

NYC Transit's Storm Water Management Program minimizes the use of potable water by harvesting rainwater, and then recycling it as "gray water" (non-industrial wastewater generated from domestic processes such as washing dishes, laundry and bathing). A rainwater collection system on the roof of the New Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility in Queens drains rainwater into a 40,000-gallon underground storage tank that supplies water to a subway car washer.

The Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Maintenance Facility has a bus washing reclamation system similar to the one the New Corona Car Washer uses, but the Grand Avenue system has a 200,000-gallon underground tank to stores rainwater.

The clean fuel bus program

NYC Transit was the first public agency in the world to have a bus fleet 100 percent accessible to customers who use wheelchairs. NYC Transit also explored ways to make its bus fleet better for customers by introducing environmentally friendly features.

In the 1990's New York City Transit launched an alternative fuel vehicle program. Former Governor George Pataki and the State Legislature announced a historic plan on June 1, 2000 to transform the NYC Transit bus fleet into the cleanest in the world. To date NYC Transit has committed roughly $1 billion to the Clean Fuel Bus Program with the following results:

  • In September 2000, NYC Transit became the first public transportation system in the country to switch all diesel buses in the fleet to ultra-low sulfur fuel, which has 90 percent less sulfur than traditional fuel and reduces emissions. This was years ahead of federal mandates.
  • In 2002, the Department of Buses received the Clean Air Excellence Award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Click here to see the award.
  • To date we have repowered 671 buses, replacing original two-stoke engines with new, four-stoke engines that are up to 94 percent cleaner burning. In addition, NYC Transit retired its last 2-stroke diesel engines in the summer of 2005.
  • NYC Transit has retrofitted more than 3,200 buses with diesel particulate filters, an emissions control technology that reduces diesel particulate emissions from engines by as much as 95 percent. In addition, we have received 1,300 new buses that have diesel particulate filters.
  • NYC Transit and MTA Bus Company run the largest "green" fleet in the world with a combined total of more than 2,000 hybrid electric and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) buses.

In 2002, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) presented the Clean Air Excellence Award to New York City Transit's Department of Buses for the purchase of hybrid electric buses, its use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and diesel particulate filters, and its diesel engine repowering program.

In November 2005, the California Transportation Energy Future Conference gave New York City Transit's Department of Buses its Blue Sky Merit Award for contributions to clean air and energy efficiency.