September 22, 2008
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FTA’s First Class in Environmental Management Systems Training Shines
By Susan Berlin, Senior Editor
In a process that began in 2003, the Federal Transit Administration created its first Environmental Management Systems (EMS) Training and Assistance Program class. As FTA’s Jim Barr, Office of Planning and Environment explained, in 2003 the agency invited 100 U.S. transit agencies with the highest ridership levels to participate in training and assistance for implementing these systems. Issues covered include energy conservation, efficient water use, vehicle emission reduction, materials recycling, and management of hazardous materials.
Out of the 100, FTA selected 10 applicants to participate in four sessions of training, conducted by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at its facility in Roanoke, VA. More recently, FTA and Virginia Tech began a second session of training for representatives of eight transit agencies.
The EMS process consists of 17 elements, according to Barr, beginning with the transit agency’s creation of an environmental policy and its approval by the agency’s board. Other elements considered in the process include safety and security, various environmental aspects, and preliminary objectives.
“As the agencies proceeded through the workshops, halfway through they developed a menu of environmental measures of importance to them,” Barr said. “Then they developed two or three aspects of the menu that they were specifically interested in.” He cited such examples as lessening electrical use, controlling runoff to decrease permit violations, minimizing hazardous waste, and decreasing emissions to obtain a reduced oversight permit. “All of the agencies had two or three very specific measures,” he added, “and this part of the process was all about implementing those measures.”
Barr noted that Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was part of the first EMS group and chose to participate again in the second group. “They’ve got plenty of bus barns and rail facilities, and they’ll want to train people to implement EMS at each of their facilities. They were very enthusiastic,” he said.
Another class participant was the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). After completing the EMS program, UTA considered the positives and negatives of going for International Standards Organization (ISO) certification. Grantley Martelly, regional general manager, central business unit, said, “We thought it would be a good exercise to prove it was feasible to be environmentally sound and still economically secure. We were able to show from our research that becoming ISO certified [which they did] was actually going to save us much more than it would cost to become certified.”
Sound Transit in Seattle and Sun Tran in Tucson, two more of the original“10,” have also achieved ISO 14001.certification. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in Hampton, VA, another participant, launched an agency-wide Sustainability Initiative in July, and has established a goal to achieve full EMS implementation and ISO 14001 certification next year.
Sound Transit instituted a Sustainability Initiative designed to help the agency continually improve its performance and respond to new challenges such as global warming and diminishing resources. Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl said the ISO 14001 certification “ensures that we are regularly audited by a third-party auditor who checks to make sure we are doing what we say we are going to do, and that we stay on track toward being a leader in sustainability.”
Perry Weinberg, Sound Transit manager, environmental affairs, and legal counsel, noted that the agency has created a checklist of sustainability targets for the current year, and is in the process of beginning to identify targets for next year.
Sun Tran achieved ISO 14001 compliance for its maintenance facility in 2005. Its plan identifies four significant aspects of environmental management: stormwater, wastewater, hazardous, waste and coolant. The city of Tucson’s paratransit provider, Van Tran, also earned an EMS ISO 14001 certification in 2007 for its administrative operations, with significant aspects of electrical energy conservation and office paper use and recycling.
Michele Joseph, director of marketing for Sun Tran, noted that the agency expanded on its original EMS program by converting its older diesel buses to use of B-20 biodiesel. “Today, 100 percent of Sun Tran’s fleet uses cleaner-burning fuels, including compressed natural gas and biodiesel. Additionally, Van Tran’s fleet is completely powered by biodiesel fuel,” she said.
HRT seeks continuous improvement in its EMS plans, including top management support; financial and public accountability; and grassroots enthusiasm and commitment.
Another member of the EMS class – Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA – emphasized the help of its employees in organizing its environmental efforts. According to Colleen Murphy, risk management analyst: “We’re all responsible for the protection of the environment, and we expect all employees to participate in the process, whatever their job is. We’ve all got to work on this together.”
Murphy said the agency’s improvement of water treatment has helped create an improved relationship with regulatory agencies. “We have a couple of wastewater permits for bus washing,” she said. “As a result of introducing this program, we’ve gone from making reports monthly to quarterly; it’s saved us money and hasn’t cost us anything. Because we have a good program, we’re on top of things, less likely to have problems.”
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is participating in the second round of EMS training. The MTA is working toward environmental sustainability in several ways, including the use of solar panels at MTA New York City Transit’s Stillwell Terminal in Coney Island. The design of the MTA’s Corona maintenance shop for subway cars incorporates several forms of sustainability, such as natural ventilation, use of daylight for illumination, and a tank that collects rainwater for cleaning the subway cars.