I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream—except for DUMBO and Brooklyn residents. 

The sound of the ice cream truck jingle is inescapable on almost every street corner in New York City with over 200 ice cream trucks operating daily for up to twelve hours at a time. Ice cream is all fun and games, until those trucks are running idle, contributing to endless smog and air pollution. Not to mention the constant noise coming from the murmur of the diesel-powered generators. 

An individual ice cream truck is estimated to burn 83 pounds of coal per day. According to the EPA, burning a pound of coal releases approximately 2.07 pounds of CO2 emissions. Putting the numbers together, daily ice cream trucks contribute to 34,000 pounds of CO2 emissions! 

Since 2019, 311 calls related to vehicle fumes and noises have tripled in the DUMBO area. DUMBO residents can no longer handle the polluted air and noise that Mister Softee, New York Ice Scream, and other ice cream chains emit. New York City Council Bill Int 1156-2023 looks to remedy the pollution problems. City councilmember Lincoln Restler of District 33—covering Greenpoint in the north, Vinegar Hill and parts of Williamsburg in the center, and Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, and some of Downtown Brooklyn in the south—introduced Bill Int 1156 earlier this year after his constituents continually called him pleading for a change.

Bill Int 1156-2023 would prohibit all New York City ice cream trucks “from using generators or engines powered by carbon-based fuel to provide electricity for food equipment.” Restler’s bill was introduced into the Committee on Environmental Protection, Resiliency, and Waterfront after seven other city councilmembers sponsored the bill. In early August, the bill was calendared for a meeting. However, meeting notes do not reflect that the bill was voted on. Perhaps the vote was postponed for a later date. Restler’s team did not respond for comment on the status of Int 1156.

The Ice Cream bill has had mixed reactions from local residents and ice cream truck owners. Residents are optimistic that this change will reduce the amount of noise and smog that they experience on a daily basis. Int 1156 would require owners to make the ice cream energy transition within three years of the bill being passed. However, the bill does not offer any subsidies or financial assistance for ice cream truck owners to make these changes. Battery operated generators are estimated to cost approximately $10,000 whereas solar-powered generators would run owners anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 per truck. With these hefty costs and no subsidies, it’s no surprise Restler’s team has been inundated with angry calls from ice cream truck owners all across the city.  

Although, not all ice cream truck owners are opposed. William Arevalo—ice cream truck owner based in Queens—noted that seasonal repairs to gas-powered diesel ice cream trucks can run him anywhere between $5,000 and $6,000. So while the upfront costs of a non-carbon based fuel may be large, in the long run owners will be saving money by not having to repair their trucks each season. Some ice cream truck companies have already begun this switch. Take Eric Murphy, CEO and founder of Scream Truck. Scream Truck has installed rechargeable batteries onto its trucks, according to Murphy. He did acknowledge that rechargeable battery upgrades per truck ranged between $60,000 and $65,000, but that the benefits of no noise and no fumes far outweigh the monetary costs. 

Looking ahead, if this bill passes, the repercussions will be felt throughout the city. Ice cream trucks are just the beginning in this clean energy transition. Lincoln Restler hopes that a successful Int 1156 will lead to larger prohibitions on carbon-based fuels for all food truck vendors all across New York. Although Restler has made no mention of subsidizing costs for business owners, he has stressed the importance of this bill passing in order to lower carbon emissions and improve the quality of life of New York City residents.