“And it has done that,” he confirms. “We have moved to low sulfur diesel, we have instituted a no-idling policy, we have gone to hybrid vehicles in a large way and we will continue moving in that direction,” he says. HRT has also implemented high-speed, point-to-point express bus services and a host of green practices in the offices.
“I think one of the main things we’ve done is we’ve instituted a position inside of HRT which is responsible for being the heart and soul of our sustainability effort,” Townes says. “We hired a great man, Scott Demarker, who is going to help bring all of this together in to a more cohesive program.”
I ask Townes why sustainability is so important to the agency when they have so many other projects to be focused on. “The vehicles are a major focus of what we do in terms of sustainability in transit,”
Townes explains. “But the vehicles are supported by our support infrastructure and if we forget about our support infrastructure, then a major part of our responsibility is being ignored.
“Maintaining the vehicles at a high level is important but if your support infrastructure isn’t situated in a way where you are practicing high sustainability practices with those, you lose the value both financially and conceptually from having focused on the vehicles themselves to the exclusion of the support infrastructure.”
Also on Townes’ mind — and everyone else’s in the industry— is the nearing end of SAFETEA-LU. Townes and I spoke about the upcoming authorization process. “I think it’s a major change,” he says. “The nation has to recognize that the day of $2 or less gas is gone. I think that the debate over whether greenhouse gases are having a real effect on the planet’s atmosphere’s chemistry is substantially over.
“Recognizing these things, we need to have a major change in the way that we run and fund transportation infrastructure in this nation.” He stresses, “One thing for sure that I want to say straight right up front is that there needs to be a strong federal role. The belief that you can devolve the cost and the responsibility for a national transportation infrastructure is an erroneous belief, so let’s start from the standpoint that there needs to be a strong federal role.”
He also points out that we haven’t invested in our infrastructure here in America at the rates that our global competitors are investing in infrastructure. “If we want this nation to maintain its leadership in the world, we have to invest for that leadership.
“I am looking for radically more money. I am looking for new, flexible program structures. I am looking for something that has some performance basis in terms of the funding. And I want the program to be focused on increasing and improving the transportation infrastructure that exists now.”
Repeating his concern, he says, “There needs to be an undeniable federal role.”
As chair of APTA, he tells me about the group of people leading APTA’s process to develop the indusstry’s positions for the next authorization. He mentions the chair and vice chair for APTA’s legislative committee, Bill Volk, managing director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, and Barry J. Barker, executive director of the Transit Authority of River City. “They’ve done a wonderful job,” he says. “And Barry Barker has also chaired a subcommittee on program structure where a great deal of the detailed work is being done.”
Townes also talks of the task force that is specifically working on the reauthorization issues themselves. He says it is being chaired by John Catoe, general manager of Washington Metro, and also included on the task force is Stephanie Negriff, executive director of the The Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica and Alan Wolkin, senior vice president of APTA business member Infoconsul. “They have done tremendous work.” He changes direction a bit, stating, “That’s the thing that gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, is to see the high-level involvement and hard work of not only these leaders, but all the members of the association who pitched in to do this work.”
With a laugh he adds, “The chair gets to take the credit for this but really, the only credit that chair can take is picking good people to do important work and I did make some good choices there.”