Exclusive: MTA plans $3bn smart fleet procurement in April

Fully electric buses may also be on the way as soon as next year, according to a senior executive at the New York authority.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to launch procurement for its Smart Fleets programme in April, MTA sustainability director Projjal Dutta told Infrastructure Investor last week.

An MTA spokesman declined to comment on the upcoming procurement beyond saying “any such RFI is still under development and we aren't prepared to talk about any such RFI in detail at this point” in an email. Dutta however said the organisation plans to replace about one-sixth of its roughly 6,400-car fleet with the new Smart Fleet R211 model cars. 

“Subway cars cost anywhere in the range of $2 million apiece, and we're going to be buying maybe 1,000 of these or 1,500, which is about a $2 billion to $3 billion procurement,” Dutta said. “It's one of the largest pieces of the new capital programme that was agreed upon by the mayor and the governor.” 

He said the MTA will only be replacing the oldest cars in the fleet, specifically mentioning the corrugated C train cars, some of which are nearing 50 years in service. Other fleet cars will continue to operate through their intended lifespans.

According to Dutta, the packages seeking interest from bidders will be published in April, and the MTA should be receiving the first of its R211 model Smart Fleet cars before the end of 2017. He said the procurement will likely be rolled out in three phases, with the first calling for roughly 300 cars. Subsequent phases will call for similar batch sizes dependent on quality standards being met in the first round.

The MTA also has plans in the works to modernise its bus flight and may procure between 10 and 100 fully electric buses as part of a pilot programme that could kick off as soon as next year, Dutta confirmed. 

He was quick to add that the MTA is approaching the electric bus issue with caution. Indeed, he added, there are currently two competing schools of thought on charging infrastructure for electric fleets: pre-route deep-cycle, on-bus storage, which takes up space and adds weight to vehicles, or opportunistic charging, which allows buses to charge on the go during scheduled stops but also introduces a dispersed charging infrastructure into an already complex system.

“I think the jury is out. One of these two will end up dominating this world of electric buses, but which one it'll be, we don't know,” Dutta said. “I think we will do is let it cook for a little while longer before we weigh in with 1,000 buses. The worst thing you can do is weigh in with 1,000 buses and take the wrong road.”