Owen Tucker-Smith, Contributing Photographer

The Conservation Law Foundation has notified First Transit Inc., a transportation company that operates Yale University shuttle buses and Connecticut Transit buses in New Haven, of its intent to sue for Clean Air Act violations as a part of its anti-idling campaign. 

The foundation sent a notice letter of its intent to sue First Transit on Jan. 24 and plans to file its complaint on March 28. First Transit has not yet responded to the complaint. Under Connecticut’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, the state mandates that vehicles, including buses, cannot idle for more than three minutes. The foundation alleges that it has observed First Transit buses idling at Yale School of Medicine and Union Station stops for more than the allocated time. This potential lawsuit is part of the Conservation Law Foundation’s larger anti-idling campaign. The foundation hopes to target large New England transit companies with fleets of vehicles, and as a result of such lawsuits, compel the companies to replace their diesel- or gas-powered buses with electric buses. 

“One might think that what’s coming out of a tailpipe of a vehicle, even if it is a bus or a larger vehicle, is not as dangerous or as impactful as something coming from a large factory,” said Heather Govern, vice president and director of CLF’s Clean Air and Water Program. “And taken vehicle by vehicle that might be true, but when you combine 20 buses, 30, 40, all the way up to hundreds of buses, there is an excessive amount of pollution that is coming and harmful pollutants that are coming out of vehicle tailpipes.”

Inhaling exhaust has been linked to asthma. New Haven is one of the twenty “asthma capitals” of the United States, due to the disproportionate number of asthma diagnoses, asthma-related emergency room visits and asthma-related deaths in the city. Data recently collected by the state of Connecticut found that over 18 percent of children in families making less than $25,000 per year have asthma.

Bus exhaust contains a number of chemicals harmful to humans. These pollutants include formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides which cause acid rain and the known human carcinogen benzene, Govern said. 

​​“Diesel exhaust pollution robs children of their futures,” said Kenta Tsuda, Staff Attorney at CLF. “Kids’ health should not be put at risk simply by riding the school bus or playing outside.

Private investigators hired by the Conservation Law Foundation found Yale University shuttle buses and Connecticut Transit buses servicing New Haven allegedly idling at stops for more than the three minutes permitted by Connecticut law. 

First Transit and University spokesperson Karen Peart did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. 

The foundation has settled similar anti-idling lawsuits previously. One was filed against Transdev, the bus operator for the Boston Public Schools. As part of the settlement, Transdev was ordered to contribute $800,000 to nonprofits working on reducing air pollution and improving air quality for individuals living and working near Boston Public School bus yards, according to a CLF press release. Another was filed against DATTCO, the bus operator for over 30 school districts in Connecticut. Most of the money from the DATTCO settlement went towards the electrification of the company’s fleet — switching out the company’s diesel-powered buses for ones powered by electricity. 

“One big goal of this [anti-idling] campaign is to get these companies to switch out their diesel- or gas-powered buses,” Govern said. “And electric buses have no tailpipe. There’s no pollution that comes from that vehicle itself, which is amazing.”

First Transit, the largest privately owned passenger transportation company in North America, operates a fleet of about 12,000 vehicles. According to the company website, First Transit “understands transportation systems are the lifeblood of communities — and [works] in partnership with customers to help our communities thrive.”

The Conservation Law Foundation was founded in 1966. 

Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.