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NEW YORK CITY-A blue-ribbon commission is calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reduce its carbon footprint and expand its reach in the coming decades, offering about 100 recommendations for doing so. The commission’s report says the MTA should draw 80% of its operating energy from renewable sources by 2050 and accommodate the daily transit needs of two-thirds of the four million new residents projected for the New York metro area by 2030.

One of those recommendations–a so-called “green card” that would fund sustainable capital and operating projects at the MTA through voluntary, tax-deductible contributions–has already been played up by the news media. “If we as a nation are to begin working seriously to prevent global warming, we need to radically rethink the way we fund mass transit,” says Jonathan F.P. Rose, chairman of the commission, in a release.

Founder of sustainable development firm Jonathan Rose Cos., Rose says the national discussion about public transit “needs to acknowledge, and put a value on, the enormous carbon avoidance that transit creates while providing mobility to keep our economy competitive. Funding levels for transit need to be commensurate with an enterprise that accomplishes both of these critical goals.”

The commission recommends a number of energy-efficiency initiatives for MTA, such as joining a consortium of public entities to pursue offshore wind farms. It also recommends energy retrofits and smart fleet technologies as part of a program to reduce MTA’s operational energy use by 25% in the next decade.

Promoting transit-oriented development throughout the region is another goal identified by the commission. To do this, the authority should encourage clustering two-thirds of all new development to within a quarter-mile to a half-mile of transit access within the MTA network, the report says. It recommends that MTA develop a system-wide program to assist municipalities, developers and other stakeholders in planning these transit-oriented initiatives. Citing a study conducted by the National Research Council, the report estimates that reducing sprawl could yield a savings of $540 billion nationwide in development and infrastructure costs.

Although the green MetroCard has gotten the most attention, it’s not the only funding mechanism recommended in the report. The commission endorses the regional mobility tax proposed by the Ravitch Commission, and advocates dedicating 0.5% to 2% of state and city pension fund portfolios to bonds underwriting MTA sustainability projects. It also proposes the establishment of a clean air surcharge on motor vehicle inspection fees.

In an introduction, commission member Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, warns, “We must be absolutely clear about the stakes. If the recommendations are not implemented, the MTA will not have the capacity to sustain the region’s economic and population growth.” The report was commissioned by Elliot G. Sander, MTA’s executive director, in September 2007.

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