Can New York City’s MTA Run On Carbon Credits?

One creative source of revenue New York City is considering: Carbon credits. Yesterday, public transit chief Eliot Sander was on the Brian Lehrer show discussing the “doomsday budget”, which basically is a choice between bad and worse. Either the city passes the Ravitch recommendations of fare hikes, tolls and a new tax, or we get…even bigger fare hikes plus drastic cuts in service, which typically disproportionately affect the elderly, poor and disabled.

One alternative: back in May, the MTA approved a $776,000 contract with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to measure their carbon footprint and look at ways to monetize it. The theory, Sander explained, is that mass transit diverts cars from the road, thus reducing the overall output of greenhouse gases. Under a carbon cap-and-trade system like the one Obama advocates, the MTA could maybe translate these carbon reductions into dough. Of course, green-minded citizens might not be too happy about that, because it would mean the energy you save by taking the bus would be offset by some deep-pocketed polluter elsewhere.

Another creative revenue source that results in a net overall carbon reduction is congestion pricing, using an EZ-Pass like setup to charge cars to drive downtown or in especially high-traffic areas. In the city of Stockholm, IBM’s system cut traffic by almost a quarter, cut carbon emissions by 14% in the inner city, increased public transit use, and raised money too.

Of course, congestion pricing has been shot down once in New York. But if Stockholm’s a guide, they just need to bring it back on a trial basis. After experiencing the benefits of the system for just a month, Swedes flipped from negative to positive on the changes, and voted to make them permanent.