Talking EVs With Port Authority of NY & NJ

The Climate Group’s corporate initiative, EV100, works with leading global companies to make electric transport and clean electric cars and light-duty trucks the new normal by 2030. Our recent EV100 Progress and Insights Annual Report shows over the last year, membership has more than doubled with an accumulated reach in over 80 markets. Our research shows that 42 million metric tons of CO2 emissions is set to be avoided by our 67 members in the next ten years.

One of our members, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) builds, operates and maintains many of the most important transportation and trade infrastructure in the United States, including LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport. As a first major milestone towards its EV100 commitment, PANYNJ will switch 50% of its 1,300 light-duty vehicles to EV by 2025, with the rest to follow by 2030. It will also transition its entire airport shuttle bus fleet to electric.

We spoke to Christine Weydig, Director of Environmental & Energy Programs, Port Authority of New York & NJ, on electric vehicles, barriers to electrifications, and supportive policy.

Read on to learn more about Port Authority of NY & NJ’s ambitious commitment to tackle air pollution and the climate crisis.

1. What were the drivers behind your commitment?

Environmental considerations were primary in this case, we have some ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, we’ve aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement, we’ve done science-based target setting and right now our goal is 35% reduction in our direct emissions by 2025. We have an 80 by 50 goal that we’re actually taking a second look at this year to see if we can increase our ambition there.

This fleet electrification will obviously have a direct impact on our scope on emissions but it also gives us a platform to engage our tenants and partners at the airports, and even some of our customers that using our bridges and tunnels, that are traveling to the airport so that we really have a solid platform to encourage them whether it’s through policy or incentives or even just the law of attraction to get them on board with electrifying their vehicles as well. In the case of the attracted travel to the airports and the vehicles using our crossings, we account for those in our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

2. How much progress have you made?

We’re almost there on the bus fleet. We have 18 buses on the road as of today and we have an additional set of 8 buses that are coming by the middle of this year. We’re in good shape in terms of meeting our bus electrification goal.

On the light-duty side, we’re at about 120 vehicles at this point and by the end of this year we should be closer to 200. It’s proven to be more challenging just because of the availability of models that meet our operational needs. It’s a really dynamic process for us, our first step was trying to “right-size” the fleet because obviously the cleanest vehicle out there is the one that’s not on the road, so really looking to see where we can make some reductions in the fleet. But also, moving certain drivers to sedans that didn’t necessarily need an SUV because we have a full battery-electric option for sedans today.

There were some of the early steps we took and now we’re focusing on which vehicles are available whether it’s sedans or minivans plug-in hybrid electric and that population of vehicles as we wait for more models to be available. By the end of this year, we’ll have our all-electric bus fleet and we’ll be the first airport in the US to have achieved that. Our buses at Newark airport are the first electric buses in the state of New Jersey, we’re really proud of that. That first-mover status has a cache, but we also have some bumps and bruises that we were imparting to some of our counterparts, say at NJ Transit, in terms of just the details of a rollout like this: having buses pass inspection, have the buses to meet the needs of airport. We’re installing telematics on all our buses so that we can really monitor their utilization and a lot of this data will help inform us as we look to expand these fleets.

3. What business benefits are you anticipating or already experiencing? How well have the charge points been received by customers?

We’re getting some really, especially on the buses at the airports, we’re getting some positive feedback from the public. Obviously, again being the first, we’re getting a lot of praise from the industry. But the buses are quieter, and we’re also really focused on improving the customer experience at all of our facilities and I think that moving our fleets to electric not only improves the experience of the bus riders, but also in terms of the local community – there are air quality improvements that are really meaningful.

On the operations and maintenance side, we’re hoping that all of the cost savings manifest themselves. Obviously, it’s too early to tell there and I think that’s something else that as the market matures, we’ll have some hard data to show that there are cost savings not just on the fuel but on the operations and maintenance.

4. What are the challenges in switching your fleet to electric by 2030 – how accessible are the models you need? Is there enough supply?

Vehicle availability is a big one and as of now, we mostly seek to procure American, domestic, vehicles and we’re seeing that the US OEMs are much further behind some of their foreign counterparts. That is going to be a challenge in the near term. As more fleet owners like us look to adopt electric vehicles and expand these fleets, we’ll have the purchasing power to catalyze the US market and domestic manufacturers. For us to feel confident in meeting our near-term goals, we might have to have a second look at some of these “Buy America” provisions.

5. Do you think the lack of production from US companies is proving to be a direct threat towards the “Buy America” concept?

I do and it’s something that the US manufacturers need to pay close attention to. We’re also seeing serious disruption entering the market, we’re closely watching “Arrival,” I’m sure you’ve heard about them. They’re rolling out buses and vans and other vehicles that they say will be already at price parity with traditional combustion engine vehicles. They’ll have micro-manufacturing close to markets which is also really attractive.

What we’re seeing just in our backyard, in the states of New York and New Jersey, there is a keen focus not just on accelerating market penetration of EVs but attracting the manufacturing and the jobs that go with those to these jurisdictions. I really think that the US OEMs should pay close attention to some of these disruptive dynamics in the market which will be a direct threat to their market share.

6. Do you think manufacturers need to speed up to meet the growing corporate demand for electric vehicles?

Yes, especially looking at some of the vehicles that seem harder to electrify, like on the heavy-duty side looking at how they can make some headway there. I’m hardly the expert on that but I feel that the technology is there and it’s really about making the technology flexible enough and low cost enough.

Obviously first cost is always going to be a concern especially for a public entity like us and when you factor in all of the infrastructure cost that goes into supporting these vehicles, really looking to reduce those costs is going to be important. But also, just the marketing of the vehicles need to be improved.

Right now, it seems like there isn’t widespread adoption in part because the consumer education piece isn’t there and speaking for an agency like ours, change management is a really important part of this journey. We can purchase the vehicles, we can install the charging stations, but without getting the staff on board who are using these vehicles and giving them a level of confidence that whether they’re on snow duty or they’re going airside or they’re hauling a lot of materials for maintenance that vehicles can support their needs. That’s something that we’re looking to focus on as part of next phase of deployment.

7. How important is supportive policy in making it easier to switch to EVs? Is a lack of support at the federal level holding back progress in the US?

Federal support across the board when you talk about sustainability and climate action is really critical and unfortunately, it’s not something that I think we have uniformly today. I hope that will change in the relatively near term.

However, we are seeing the states stepping up and that has been really helpful. New Jersey has just passed landmark EV legislation that really covers a lot of the areas that are important to us. Not just lowering the upfront costs for certain vehicle types, but supporting the EV supply equipment and trying to build out some of that infrastructure corridor that is going to be important for mass adoption of electric vehicles. And also, putting in a timeline by which other agencies have to electrify is important in catalyzing the markets, getting the OEMs on board, but then also there are a lot of the vehicles that use our crossings.

As I said we account for those emissions in our inventory, but they also are going to dictate some of the infrastructure that we need to have available at our facilities to support them in the future including here at the Port Authority Bus Terminal as we redevelop that over the next decade. But I think, in NY you’re seeing something similar. So, in the recent State address, there was a lot of focus on continuing to build out EV infrastructure. There are incentives in place for buses and trucks. On the truck side, we’re not seeing a lot of availability in that market and that’s another gap for us because the trucks that take cargo to and from our ports is part of our emissions inventory but we’re not seeing the availability of electric trucks at this time. The manufacturing is something that is also a big component of New York’s current focus. We are seeing state-level support but having more of a holistic policy and incentive regime would be helpful since we cover multiple jurisdictions.

8. Are there any instances where, because you’ve had an opportunity to meet and speak with others, that you would’ve done things differently or faster?

For us, having that second look at our “Buy America” provision has been at least amplified by having discussions with other members of EV100 because we have a constraint that if it were removed, could accelerate our efforts. On the charging infrastructure side, it’s also been really helpful to have a platform where we can exchange ideas because there will be a lot of technological advancement in that space in the next handful of years. Making sure we have enough charging ports to support where we are today and being able to have some sort of a look ahead at what we might need to do in the future. I think getting smarter about installing some of that infrastructure where we’re not installing a port at every location where the vehicles might dwell but trying to consolidate some of that charging activity has been really helpful.

9. Are you hopeful for the future?

I am optimistic and that varies from day to day, but especially now that we are in the climate decade. I think for the first time since I’ve been working in this area, which has been more than a decade at this point, people really seem to be on the same page about the fact that there is a climate emergency and that ambitious action needs to be taken even from certain areas that have been slower to embrace that idea like finance and others.

We are starting well behind the starting line and we have a lot of ground to make up, but even looking at some of our partners and what’s going on around the world, it seems that we are going to really be accelerating and I’m optimistic.

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