Green Views

Sharing views on sustainable practices, including alternative-powered vehicles, eco-friendly facilities and energy-efficient technologies.

Back to the list

September 13, 2013

How sustainability can save transit agencies money, build community support

by Dave Walsh - Also by this author

Everyone in the transit world knows resources are always stretched. But there are ways agencies can use sustainability to create and maintain financial, social and political capital.

Efficiency plays well with the public and can save big money in the long haul. Oftentimes, the environmental choices faced by transit agencies are governed by local laws, which vary greatly across the country.
Let’s focus the sustainability lens on some of the biggest operational costs in public works projects: fuel, power and water.

I’m working with a major Western city that is building out a large transit project. We decided to use a new generation of compact ceramic metal halide lamps in thousands of lamps throughout the parking lots and stations. The energy savings over time will more than justify the initial price of the lamps. That’s sustainable and sensible thinking that will pay financial and environmental dividends for decades.

Other energy-saving practices include escalators with motion sensors, regenerative elevators and sub-metering at maintenance facilities.

On the fuel side, hybrid buses and compressed natural gas (CNG) have proven track records to reduce costs and carbon pollution. The CNG bus fleet of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority reduced more than 92% of air toxic pollutants compared to the diesel buses it once operated. And, depending on the relative costs of natural gas and oil, CNG costs about one-half to one-quarter of the equivalent of diesel.

In New Jersey, the state mandates that equipment used in public works projects adhere to the highest environmental standards to reduce air quality impacts to communities. Taxpayer dollars are used to help subsidize the equipment, which will eventually replace older fleets throughout the state’s construction industry leaving a legacy of cleaner air for the region.

Water is increasingly considered a scarce resource, and here, too, transit agencies are often presented choices where sustainability can provide good guide posts. Planting native or adapted vegetation around stations and park-and-ride lots requires less potable water for irrigation. Re-circulating water in bus washes saves thousands of gallons (and dollars).

The storm water side of the equation is even more active, and is often directed by local regulations and priorities. In Seattle, for example, the public utility determines storm drainage rates by surface area and types of surface, with special allowances for pervious surfaces. The City of Philadelphia took particularly strong action, committing to refurbishing 9,500 acres of paved lands as part of a $2 billion plan to comply with federal orders to fix combined drainage and sewage systems that can discharge raw sewage and contaminant-laced runoff into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which provides public transit for five Pennsylvania counties including Philadelphia, set a target of 10% improvement in SEPTA's water use and pollutant discharge performance by 2015. The agency plans to achieve this target by reducing its impervious surfaces on its properties and other strategies.

Just as storm water sustainability is often governed by local laws, same, too, with disposing of construction debris. In the Seattle area, tipping fees are far higher at landfills than recycling centers, a big incentive for local transit agencies to aggressively separate construction debris to maximize recyclables and minimize landfill waste. In other regions such as metropolitan Denver, there’s no shortage of available land for disposal sites, so the inherent economic conditions make waste diversion more of a challenge.

Just as sustainable water, fuel and energy practices can build financial resources, sustainability can also replenish and augment social and political resources as well and help set the stage for an electorate that’s more supportive of transit.

Good storm water management can prevent accidental releases of contaminated water, which can result in fines and public outrage. Good dust and noise control can help reduce the annoyance factor. And, strategic lighting can save money and limit neighborhood light pollution.

Of course, sustainability often means doing something new, untried and experimental. For every reason to make a change, there are counter-arguments. Want to try using pervious pavement at a park-and-ride? Won’t it crack and disintegrate? Can it be used in the parking stalls only?  Doing limited pilot projects to vet new solutions positions agencies as both forward-thinkers but also as a responsible stewards undertaking due diligence.

Transit agencies have to maintain a tricky balance between embracing new solutions that can deliver increased efficiencies without increasing risk. Interestingly, I’ve found that innovation is often embraced by the both high-level leadership and younger, newer staff. It will be this new generation that will likely devise and implement sustainable practices that most transit agencies haven’t even dreamed of yet.  

About the Author:
David Walsh is a Project Manager with Sellen Sustainability. A LEED-accredited architect with experience with both design and construction, Walsh is a longtime sustainability advocate who helps clients meet their sustainability goals and develop sustainability plans.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Green fleet helps UC Davis adhere to strict standards."

Dave Walsh

Project Manager, Sellen Sustainability


Write a letter to the editor
deli.cio.us digg it stumble upon newsvine


    There are no comments.

E-NEWSLETTER

Receive the latest Metro E-Newsletters in your inbox!

Join the Metro E-Newsletters and receive the latest news in your e-mail inbox once a week. SIGN UP NOW!

View the latest eNews
Express Tuesday | Express Thursday | University Transit

Author Bio

Matt Stephens-Rich

Clean Cities Ohio

A graduate student at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University, Matt Stephens-Rich is interning at Clean Fuels Ohio as part of the Clean Cities Workforce Development Program.


Richard Battersby

Director, Fleet Services at UC Davis

Richard Battersby is the director, fleet services, at University of California, Davis. He also serves as coordinator of the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition.


Steve Linnell

Director, Transportation / Energy Planning, Greater Portland Council of Governments

Steve Linnell is Director of Transportation and Energy Planning at the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Coordinator of Maine Clean Communities.


Yliana Flores

Alamo Area Clean Cities Coordinator

Yliana Flores is the Alamo Area Clean Cities coordinator for the Alamo Area Council of Governments Natural Resources Department, where she has worked on transportation issues since 2010.


Dave Walsh

Project Manager, Sellen Sustainability

Registered Architect and a Project Manager with Sellen Sustainability, works with agencies, design and construction teams to implement measurable sustainability in transit projects.


Colleen Crowninshield

Manager, Tucson Regional Clean Cities Coalition

Colleen Crowninshield has worked for the Pima Association of Governments since 1994, where she has served as coordinator for the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition since 2002.


White Papers

Mass Transit Capital Planning An overview of the world-class best practices for assessing, prioritizing, and funding capital projects to optimize resources and align with the organization’s most critical immediate and long-term goals.

The Benefits of Door-to-Door Service in ADA Complementary Paratransit Many U.S. transit agencies continue to struggle with the quality of ADA service, the costs, and the difficulties encountered in contracting the service, which is the method of choice for a significant majority of agencies. One of the most basic policy decisions an agency must make involves whether to provide door-to-door, or only curb-to-curb service.

Mass transit mobile Wi-Fi & the public sector case study How Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority successfully implemented Wi-Fi on its light rail and bus lines

More white papers


STORE
METRO Magazine - January 2013

METRO Magazine
Here are the Highlight:
  • As Business Grows Motorcoach Top 50 Expand Fleets, Training
  • Innovative Motorcoach Operators
  • Bus Management Supplement
    And much more…
  •  
    DIGITAL EDITION

    The full contents of Metro Magazine on your computer! The digital edition is an exact replica of the print magazine with enhanced search, multimedia and hyperlink features. View the current issue