July 19, 2010
The classifieds in this issue offer a diverse group of jobs including a transit general manager and several other executive positions!
Putting Carbon Savings in Context; Climate Registry Issues New Performance Metrics
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor
Fact: Communities that invest in public transit reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. That is a significant carbon reduction.
Through The Climate Registry’s recently issued “Performance Metrics for Transit Agencies,” public transportation agencies can now place this number in context—measuring both carbon efficiency and reduction in carbon emissions. In other words, transit agencies can now quantify the steps they are taking to make their operations more efficient while simultaneously being able to better demonstrate how the service they are providing is contributing to a cleaner planet.
Denise Sheehan is vice president of government and regional affairs of The Climate Registry, a nonprofit collaboration that sets consistent and transparent standards to calculate, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single clearinghouse. She explained that its purpose was to create a place where organizations from all sectors could report their greenhouse gas emissions—and where the recipients of this data would know that such data had integrity.
“The key here is consistency,” said Sheehan. “Everyone is using the same approaches and methodologies, and these are based on international standards.”
The new metrics are:
* Emissions per passenger mile traveled. Passengers traveling on a fuller vehicle will be more carbon-efficient, so this metric will capture efforts to improve carbon efficiency by attracting passengers and increasing service productivity.
* Emissions per vehicle mile. This metric measures operational efficiency and will be sensitive to efforts to purchase lower-emission vehicles, switch to lower-carbon fuels, or improve the energy efficiency of facilities (e.g., office buildings or train stations).
* Emissions per revenue vehicle hour. This is another measure of operational efficiency, but one that also captures efforts to reduce deadheading and roadway congestion.
APTA—through its Climate Change Working Group under the Standards program—and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) were integral to the development of the metrics, ensuring their reflection of the best knowledge of the transit industry. APTA and CUTA have long maintained multi-year cooperative agreements in recognition of the common interests and integration of their public transportation industries.
As the report notes: “These performance metrics will provide transit agencies, policy-makers, and academics [with] a clear means to quantify, compare, and analyze the carbon efficiency of transit agencies.”
“We think that working with the Registry helps agencies have a good sense of where the emissions are coming from so they can successfully engage in climate action planning,” said Eric Hesse, strategic planning analyst with Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon and chair of the APTA Standards Climate Change Working Group. “It helps us measure our carbon efficiency rather than just our carbon emissions—by measuring emissions within an operational context, such as per passenger mile and per vehicle mile.”
Collecting this data, said Kevin Desmond, general manager of King County Metro Transit in Seattle and chair of the APTA Sustainability Committee, “ensures that agencies can provide an accurate public record of their emissions; may help them comply with future state and federal legal requirements; and may help them gain credit for their actions to reduce emissions.”
He added: “The data we gather from these new benchmarks will enhance our sustainability efforts, and they will show funding agencies and the public that, in addition to the inherent climate benefits of fewer vehicles on the road, investments in public transportation save money.”
To ensure that organizations are using a similar approach, however, it’s necessary to use consistent standards. This is why, Sheehan stressed, it’s important for organizations—if they are part of the same sector—to participate in the same program.
“Measures can vary,” said Projjal Dutta, director, sustainability initiatives, with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, “so I think it’s important to subscribe to a system, and the Registry provides one of the leading systems to do that.”
Val Menotti, deputy planning manager at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) and vice chair of APTA’s Climate Change Standards Working Group, echoed that sentiment: “The primary way the new Registry metrics help is to have a standardized way for us to evaluate our performance, a standard way to report, and a way for people to do analysis based on that data.”
Menotti also emphasized the need to track energy efficiency. “It’s important for BART to monitor and track performance,” he said, “especially as it relates to energy efficiency and how we can reduce cost.” He added: “It’s good to monitor and track this over time—whether you’re participating in the Registry or just doing it on your own.”
Another benefit to using these metrics is that it quantifies public transportation’s green contribution to the environment—something not commonly recognized.
“The transit industry never puts this out as a service,” said Dutta. “We not only move people from Point A to Point B, we do this in a green fashion. And just as the electron generated by a windmill has two distinct values (it’s a ‘green’ electron and can power a light), similarly, the greenness of the transportation we provide currently has no [recognition] in the marketplace. So I think it is important for us to construct this whole cost-benefit analysis in carbon terms.”
These new transit performance metrics are a boon to the industry, according to the experts. “The value of doing your inventory is a triple bottom line,” said Sheehan: “economic, societal, and environmental.”
She added: “Just looking at greenhouse gas emissions isn’t enough—you have to understand it in context. Is ridership increasing? Are buses clean? Are trains? It will help transit tell a story about what their contribution really is—that’s the purpose of the metrics.”