APTA | Passenger Transport
October 26, 2009

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General Forum: Transit's Future in a Green Economy
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but uses 25 percent of the world’s energy—a major reason for making the shift to greener practices, including taking public transit instead of driving.

That was the message of Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, at a General Forum on “The Future of Transit in a Green Economy,” held Oct. 7 during the APTA Annual Meeting in Orlando.

“The transit industry holds the key to a lot of the things that need to happen over the next few years” as far as implementing more ecologically sensitive operations, said moderator John M. Inglish, chair of the APTA Sustainability and Urban Design Standards Policy and Planning Committee and general manager/chief executive officer of the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City. He noted that corporations are beginning to understand the importance of “doing things in a green way” and reminded transit agencies to sign on to the APTA Sustainability Commitment.

Callahan explained that APTA is one of more than 160 members of the Alliance, which works to bring together government, industry, and the public sector to conserve energy and encourage energy efficiency. For example, the Alliance promotes the Drive Smarter Challenge, with tips on how drivers can reduce their fuel bills.

“Energy efficiency has been powering the U.S. economy for more than 30 years,” she said, noting the origins of the Alliance at the time of the 1970s gasoline shortage. However, she added, the situation has become much more serious: total energy use in U.S. buildings is as much as the total amount in India and Japan combined, although federal legislation beginning with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 has begun to help with reductions in energy use and carbon dioxide emissions.

Callahan also cited President Barack Obama’s focus on regional and local transit planning as part of his green efforts, and the current interaction among U.S. DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Increasing efficiency is the quickest, cheapest way to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “As time goes on, green becomes business as usual, with better cars increasing vehicle fuel efficiency; better fuels with low or zero CO2 levels; a reduced rate of growth; and, eventually, optimizing the system’s operations.”

Stephen R. Van Beek, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Eno Transportation Foundation, compared climate change mediation efforts with “health care for the planet.” He pointed out the importance of governmental and institutional efforts to work with the situation, as individual climate efforts will be inefficient and expensive without an overall policy infrastructure.

In addition to promoting transit use and providing transportation alternatives, Van Beek recommended supporting research on lifecycle greenhouse gas emission levels and using tax incentives to encourage going green.

Stephen R. Beard, vice chair of Leadership APTA and senior vice president and national director of transit for HDR ENGINEERING INC., offered a private-sector perspective on the issue. “I’ve heard plenty of evidence that we’re in a green economy,” he said. “I see the pressures and expectations from transit passengers and the general public. I hear it in a very strong way through governmental policy. The question is, how do these things translate into the way we do business?”

Beard described how his firm understands that “sustainability is good for business” and, in keeping with that insight, is forging new partnerships specifically devoted to environmental and climate change issues. Going green, he said, reduces the firm’s costs in many ways; helps define internal environmental policies; changes how services are delivered; serves to recruit and retain employees; and ultimately yields a more responsible corporation.

HDR’s specific efforts include signing on to the APTA Sustainability Commitment at the gold level, establishing a National Sustainable Solutions Leadership Team to oversee both internal and external efforts, and releasing an annual Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Report. The company is also building its hybrid fleet, increasing transit-supportive office locations, subsidizing transit passes, providing carpool spaces, and offering vanpools.

Trish Webb, director of corporate sustainability for the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink) in Burnaby, BC, spoke about her agency’s sustainability vision, which has as its goal moving the region toward sustainability through transportation excellence. The plan has environmental, social, and fiscal aspects, created with the help of TransLink employees and regional stakeholders.

“The goal of our policy is to become a world leader in transportation sustainability,” she added.

Webb described a 30-year plan for sustainability in the region served by TransLink. The goals include reducing greenhouse gas levels created by replacing most driving trips with walking, cycling, or transit; establishing most jobs and housing on frequent transit routes; making travel safe, secure, and accessible; and ensuring stable, sufficient funding levels that positively influence transport choice.

The General Forum was sponsored by Veolia Transportation.

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