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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis April 8, 2011
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Every Day Should Be Earth Day for the Transit Industry

For 40 years, the transit industry has joined with others to celebrate Earth Day. This started long before the word “sustainability” entered our vocabulary.

As transportation providers, our commitment to sustainability must be more than a one-day celebration, because it touches on everything we do. It starts with our employees and carries through to our fleet, facilities, technology, marketing, legislation, policy, and planning.

In these days of dwindling resources and growing concern about public spending, a commitment to sustainability is also a commitment to adding value to limited transportation dollars. If we invest in and emphasize sustainability principles, our organizations are more efficient in the long term and better support sustainable community development.

If our goal as an industry—and as individual citizens—is to create livable communities, we must start with a bottom-up approach within our own organizations. Every employee must have a role. Teach bus drivers to limit idling for better fuel efficiency. Train mechanics to close garage doors. Turn off lights when we leave our own offices.

Local action is more effective than trying to legislate down from the federal level. At King County Metro Transit, which serves the Seattle metropolitan region, we see mitigating climate change as critically necessary. Operating fuel-efficient vehicles, applying sustainable practices at facilities, and reducing energy consumption all save us money.

Plus, transportation accounts for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State. Our transit services are seen as increasingly relevant and valuable as the region and state work to cut emissions by reducing vehicle trips.

Our agency is part of the larger King County government, which gives Metro a broad-based policy framework for its many programs and initiatives under the sustainability heading. These policies are firmly embedded in our mission and strategic plan.

As county departments plan, work, and execute together, we learn from one another, share tools, and get a bigger bang for our buck. It’s important to have policies and actions that go hand-in-hand to provide both a structure and an impetus to make real change.

Many of King County’s policies rely heavily on transit strategies. In turn, Metro uses countywide policies as a guide for developing operational programs and planning strategies. For example:

* By the end of 2011, almost 50 percent of Metro’s fleet will be hybrid diesel-electric buses or all-electric trolleys. This supports the county’s goal to reduce energy consumption 10 percent in all vehicles by 2015. And, it reduces transportation emissions by incorporating the latest low or no-emissions technologies.

* King County promotes innovative vehicle technology with a focus on electric vehicles. We are adding 20 Nissan Leaf vehicles to Metro’s commuter van program, and support private use of electric vehicles by locating charging stations in park-and-rides. We also received a federal grant to purchase a prototype battery-powered electric bus.

* Metro monitors utility consumption with software that records billing and usage monthly. We use that information to develop trend lines for active management of electricity, natural gas, and water. Through constant monitoring, we broaden employee awareness of consumption levels and identify opportunities to reduce costs.

* We work with cities, employers, and community groups to change travel behavior to meet statewide trip-reduction goals. Metro delivers and refines services to integrate its countywide bus network with regional bus and rail services to expand mobility options and increase transit mode share, especially during peak hours when vehicle emissions are highest.

* King County was one of the first in Washington State to link climate policies with land use. This includes partnering on transit-oriented development projects, setting emissions-reduction targets, providing technical assistance on Green Building standards, and helping guide climate change programs. As required by county policy, Metro uses Green Building standards for design and construction. Our new Communications and Control Center is a LEED Gold Certified building, and a new operating base is being built to the same standard.

* Metro’s Facilities staff has implemented “green cleaning” techniques at operating and maintenance buildings, including the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Green cleaning includes not only the products used, but also policies, procedures, and training to clean with less impact on human health and the environment. In 2010, due to innovative changes in trash collection, we recycled more than 100 tons of waste rather than dump it in landfills.

* We routinely seek inventive public-private partnerships. These range from sharing the cost of new bus routes with cities to sponsoring neighborhood-level “In Motion” programs, which offer incentives through local businesses to increase the use of transit, carpooling, bicycling, and footpower. We also work with utility companies on energy projects that leverage our dollars through incentive rebates.

These are just a few examples of what we are doing here in Seattle. Around the world, we can see that quality transit services are the foundation for sustainability.

Enriching our communities with sustainable transportation makes them more competitive in attracting people and businesses. They become communities that work—not stagnate.

We all benefit from more energy-efficient vehicles and buildings, more access to jobs and education, and more livable and sustainable communities. Don’t set sustainability off in a corner and dust it off once a year for Earth Day. It must be integrated into everything we do every day.

Kevin Desmond is general manager of King County Metro Transit in Seattle and chairs APTA’s Sustainability Committee.


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