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MTA retires old diesel buses as it moves toward all-electric fleet

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The transit authority has vowed to convert its fleet entirely to fully electric buses by 2040

A Rapid Transit Series bus beside a new all-electric bus.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

It’s out with the old, and in with the new for New York City’s buses.

The MTA retired the last of its diesel-burning Rapid Transit Series (RTS) buses Monday as it continues to shift its fleet toward cleaner, low-emission vehicles. Retirement for the RTS, which hasn’t been manufactured since 1999, comes as the MTA steps up its investment in all-electric buses.

“Today we’re saying farewell to one of the iconic pieces of equipment of our organization,” said Darryl Irick, the president of the MTA Bus Company, at the Michael J. Quill Bus Depot in Midtown. Irick drove the “Big Blues & Whites” when he was a bus operator in the Bronx and his father before him drove the model across the city during his career as a bus driver. “But today has a dual purpose. It is a day of transitioning. As part of our fast forward bus plan, we are reaffirming our commitment to a greener, more advanced future.”

Built by the GMC Truck and Coach Division, the RTS models rolled out from 1981 to 1999 and eventually served routes in every borough. In the ’90s, the buses were used to test alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas and methanol. Now, the MTA is again working to outfit its fleet with greener technology, owning nearly 1,700 hybrid-electric buses, 745 compress natural gas models, and more than 3,000 clean diesel buses.

An all-electric bus charging screen at the Michael J. Quill Bus Depot in Midtown.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

The fleet also includes 10 all-electric buses with more on the way. Fifteen articulated electric models were recently purchased and are expected to be delivered by October of this year, according to Ashley Rose, a project manager with the MTA’s bus department.

The MTA aims to add another 45 all-electric buses to its fleet in 2020. Currently, the electric models only operate out of the Quill depot and the Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Maspeth, Queens where their lithium-ion batteries can be recharged—the MTA’s New Flyer Excelsior XE40 model can run for up to 50 miles between charges. But the transit authority does plan to purchase 16 in-depot chargers and mobile charging units for greater flexibility.

Over the next five years, the MTA plans to add 500 all-electric buses and has pledged to convert its fleet entirely to electric vehicles by 2040.