August 3, 2009
In this weeks Classifieds, you'll find:
6 DBE opportunities
Sustainability: Is It Easy ‘Being Green’?
BY WILLIAM MILLAR, President, APTA
When I started to write this commentary, I thought I’d show how technologically savvy I am, so I Googled “sustainability”—and received over 30 million hits.
This issue is, clearly, on more than a few people’s minds!
So as I think about what sustainability means to public transportation, I find myself breaking it up into “internal” and “external” actions. Internal means the things we all can do to make our industry greener, such as alternative fuels for buses, solar power at our facilities, and recycled wash water. But then I think about how our industry’s efforts are having an external impact, such as public transit being integral to transit-oriented development.
Also, when I think about sustainability in the 21st century, I’m mindful of how far we’ve come in such a short time. It was 40 years ago that California experienced such bad air pollution that it developed and expanded public transit systems as part of the strategy to deal with it. And yet, while climate change is now a household phrase, it isn’t as if public transit jumped on the sustainability bandwagon yesterday. We’ve been working at this for a long time now.
For example, APTA became a signatory of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Charter on Sustainable Development in May 2003, at UITP’s 55th World Congress in Madrid. Any signatory to the charter acknowledges that the three principles of sustainable development—social, economic, and environmental—are embedded in its activities. Among the things we committed to do by signing on was to promote sustainability as an ideal concept and goal among our members.
To that end, in August 2005, APTA presented its first Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, and has held this workshop annually ever since.
Now, four years later, APTA instituted its own Sustainability Commitment—open to all APTA members—with signatories committing to take actions to improve the sustainability of their organizations. As of this writing, 30 APTA members have signed on, which is terrific, but let me use this forum to urge even more to join.
APTA also has its own “Green Team” that works every day to make our offices more sustainable—from eco-purchasing to more recycling—just a few small efforts that contribute to the larger one.
Our legislative team continues to make headway in gaining transit funding in the climate change bill, and of course we’re all working hard to make the case for public transportation in the surface transportation authorization bill.
Our sustainability standards work has led to a soon-to-be-released methodology for measuring the carbon emissions from public transit as well as transit sustainability guidelines.
And, hot off the presses, there’s Moving Cooler, a comprehensive environmental analysis conducted by Cambridge Systematics, and sponsored by one of the most diverse group of transportation interests gathered in recent years, including the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Urban Land Institute, Shell Oil Company, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Defense Council, APTA, and others. The research found that the single most effective way to address the impact of transportation on climate change is not singular: public transit investment—coordinated with combining travel activity, land use development, road pricing, operational efficiencies, and other activities taken together—can reduce greenhouse gases by 24 percent.
So, this is just some of what APTA’s been up to—in-house or with its many partners. Now I want to take a moment to talk about the terrific sustainability efforts of some of our members.
New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Beginning in September 2007, a blue-ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the NY MTA examined energy/carbon; facilities; smart growth/transit-oriented development; materials flow; and water management and climate adaptation, issuing a final report in April 2009 containing nearly 100 recommendations. But the MTA was already engaged in numerous environment-saving activities even before the commission was formed, such as stimulating TOD and harnessing solar energy to power a subway station and tidal energy to power another, replacing signal lights with energy-efficient LEDs, installing aluminum third rail, improving fuel economy by inflating bus tires with nitrogen, and collecting rainwater to wash buses and trains, then recycling that water multiple times. From facilities to operations to their land-use component, NY MTA stands as a national model. This agency is truly leading the way.
Utah Transit Authority
UTA, our host for the Sustainability Workshop, has implemented an Environmental Management System (EMS) that provides a framework for managing the agency’s sustainable responsibilities by identifying harmful impacts from projects, services, and activities and finding ways to resolve them. What else is UTA doing? It’s realigning its entire set of green processes according to the ISO 14001 EMS standards. Once approved, UTA will be one of the few transit systems in the nation that is ISO 14001 accredited.
As the saying goes, TriMet likes to keep it clean. In fact, there are a few “dirty” words they would like to remove from their vocabulary entirely: greenhouse gas, pollution, waste, inefficiency, and congestion. Under the direction of General Manager (and Workshop Chair) Fred Hansen, TriMet continues to demonstrate its leadership in advancing sustainability in the Portland region and the transit industry. TriMet’s recent innovations range from partnering with Engineered Machines Products Inc. to develop and demonstrate its EPA award-winning new engine cooling technology that reduces fuel consumption and improves operating efficiency to pioneering the use of a new material made from recycled tires in sound walls along the Green Line MAX light rail project opening in September, which will keep more than 9,000 tires from the landfill.
Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus
Santa Monica’s slogan? “Ride Blue, Go Green.” Its progressive action? As newer buses with state-of-the-art technology and cleaner-burning fuel have been produced, the Big Blue Bus has purchased them. Its fleet of 210 buses represents a range of bus innovation; 43 percent is fueled by Liquefied Natural Gas, which is 77 percent cleaner burning than diesel-fueled buses.
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
CUMTD has identified a range of sustainability-related action items it has taken or will soon undertake. These include lowering the price of annual bus passes to $60 from $235 to make access and mobility options more affordable; reducing water use by washing buses only when needed; beginning to use “Safe and Green” cleaning chemicals exclusively; making plans to purchase nine hybrid buses; recycling scrap metals, antifreeze, tin cans, cardboard, and paper; switching from incandescent to LED bulbs for exterior bus lights; and participating in a research project using diesel particulate filters to reduce this matter by 85 percent.
There are more examples, of course, including many of the projects to be discussed at our Sustainability Workshop.
So as you can see, public transportation takes you—to a cleaner environment, to a reduced dependence on foreign oil, to a decreased cost of living. Yes, indeed, public transportation takes you there.