NYC's green dividend saves city billions

New York City subway passengers enter a train at Grand Central Terminal station.


Bill Radke: New York City is touting a report that shows its citizens reap a "green dividend" of billions of dollars a year for driving less than other urban dwellers. But as Andrea Bernstein reports from WNYC, not all New Yorkers are feeling so lucky.

Andrea Bernstein: New York City isn't the most car-friendly place. It's not unusual to see cars bumper to bumper stretched out for blocks.

Still, most people in New York aren't driving; they're taking the subway. So much so that the City Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, likes to brag at conferences:

Janette Sadik-Khan: It's no wonder that New Yorkers have one-third the carbon footprint of the average American. So if you're really serious about saving the planet, just move to New York.

But now comes a report showing New Yorkers have a new reason to gloat about their relatively car-independent existence. Because so few people drive every day, the average is pulled down to nine miles a day. Nationally, that figure is about 25 miles a day. The result: New York City residents save $19 billion a year, and most of that stays in New York.

Sadik-Khan: Because we don't produce cars, and we don't produce gas.

Unlike like Houston, where city residents drive the most. But that's an oil town. Joe Cortright, an economist with the group CEOs for Cities, wrote the report. He says cities everywhere can save by getting more people to ride transit.

Joe Cortright: Transit isn't just sort of an amenity for the good times, it actually has some really significant contributions to the wellbeing of local residents and the wellbeing of the local economy.

OK, but is that real money moving through the economy, or theoretical money?

Cortright: It is absolutely real money, it's money that if you did not have the kind of transit system you have, you did not have the kind of density, people would have to be laying out more money everyday for cars and gasoline.

So, are New Yorkers feeling richer? Not exactly. Down in the subways, a banker who'd only give his name as Jim said the dividend isn't taking something into account:

Jim: Cost of living here. So it's not as good a deal as it sounds.


Jim: If you live in the city, it makes more sense to take the subway.

In New York, I'm Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

Radke: This story is part of the Transportation Nation public radio project. For more, go to marketplace.org.

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BLOOMBERG adminstation is all about putting the tax burden on the middle-class taxpayer. I don't believe any statistic when it comes to NYC.

This article is not only misleading, it is simply false. It relies solely on car-use to figure the "carbon footprint" without considering any other sector. What about the vast concrete jungle without the color green? What about the constant flow of trains and trucks and ships and barges bringing life to New York City? That "carbon footprint" needs to extend to all that NYC consumes, if this portrait is be remotely accurate. Is the fuel that it takes to produce and import what NYC consumes figured in? If not, what is happening is that Marketplace is simply trying to shove NYC's carbon responsibility onto the American hinterland, while taking credit where credit is not due. It's great that there is less car use, and should be replicated elsewhere, but a focus on this single aspect is simply inadequate. Figure in the shipping, the carbon cost of industrial agriculture, electricity use (West Virginia coal!), and other natural resource use, and I think you will find that NYC is not a quaint little environmentally friendly town, but is actually a huge, bloated, dirty, utterly dependent abuser of the Earth's resources. I applaud the use of mass transit. But NYC doesn't get to pretend like it's "green" until it stops importing electricity, water, and food, among other things...while also exporting toxic waste, pollution, sprawl, consumerism, inefficient waste...not to mention the white-collar crime that keeps an unsustainable, unjust, and extremely wasteful economy (with its assumptions from the 19th century) from growing and evolving into something better.

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