New Castle Approves New Electric Bus Purchase Despite Drawbacks

The New Castle Town Board approved the acquisition of an electric bus as a shuttle between Chappaqua Crossing and downtown Chappaqua despite distance limitations and a potential disproportionate benefit for the new development’s residents.

In a split 3-2 vote last week, Supervisor Robert Greenstein and council members Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky argued that its’ purchase and use would provide increased accessibility between downtown Chappaqua and the former Reader’s Digest site and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging an alternative form of transportation.

It would also enhance the town’s reputation as an environmental leader.

“I look forward to the day when I see that vehicle going up and down the hill knowing this is who we are as a community and that we’re doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Greenstein, who noted the purchase is supported by the town’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAB).

However, board members Hala Makowska and Jeremy Saland countered that while they support green initiatives, the bus isn’t practical enough because it is limited to between 75 and 90 miles and would take eight hours to fully recharge, significantly reducing the town’s ability to use it for other purposes.

“At a certain point, you have to say if this was my family, my money, my budget, is this how I would spend my money?” Makowska said. “When I take a look at maximum distance on a single charge and it takes eight hours to charge (for) 90 miles under perfect conditions, this bus is really limited to the Summit/Greenfield jitney process and maybe a few rare exceptions.”

The pair contended that the primary beneficiary would be residents at Chappaqua Crossing. New housing is being constructed at the site, including more than 60 affordable housing, workforce housing and market-rate units at the signature cupola building. Later on, developer Summit/Greenfield will construct 111 new townhouses.

Under an agreement with the town, Summit/Greenfield is obligated to operate a shuttle service for at least two years between the campus and downtown during the four-hour Metro-North peak train periods for the morning and evening commutes as well as an hourly run between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., said Director of Planning Sabrina Charney Hull. The shuttle service would start after the Certificate of Occupancy is obtained for the cupola building housing, she said.

Although the bus costs about $250,000, it is expected only about $60,000 will need to be spent for the bus. The town will be the recipient of a $100,000 Clean Energy Community grant from the New York State Research & Development Agency (NYSERDA) and another $90,000 rebate from the agency.

Saland said that the town, which had also listed the grant go toward LED lighting for the downtown Chappaqua streetscape project on the application, would be more feasible.

“What I’m concerned about is its use and viability,” Saland said. “I’m concerned that it provides a limited benefit to a limited group of people, that limited are at Chappaqua Crossing, where it’s going to be both private and public dollars.”

Makowska added that the town should have negotiated with Summit/Greenfield ahead of time to get a firm commitment regarding their contribution for the vehicle.

Hull responded that while the concerns are valid, NYSERDA would be most likely to sign off on the grant for projects by judging the level of reduction in carbon emissions. The town resolution estimates that New Castle would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 tons annually.

Furthermore, the grant would cover only about 10 percent of the roughly $1 million LED lighting costs for the downtown streetscape and infrastructure project, Hull said.

Katz said she believes the town may be underestimating how much it will use the bus, including serving as a shuttle between downtown and the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center.

“I think to be able to fulfill the Paris Accord (Agreement) in some way and to give people accessibility between Chappaqua Crossing and downtown, especially for shows and at a time that we want to support restaurants and other merchants, I think it’s important,” she said.

Hull said the town would be able to complete partial charges during the day that will provide the bus with more mileage.