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Gold-Level Sustainability in Transit

At the American Public Transportation Association’s Annual Meeting, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Sound Transit shared information on how they made sustainability a strategic goal and became gold-level members of the APTA Sustainability Commitment.

A big issue at SEPTA, like many agencies, is state of good repair. They have a $5 billion backlog on infrastructure projects, have a 23-year high in ridership and have a 15-year low in capital funding. SEPTA Deputy General Manager, Operations/EM&C Divisions Jeffrey Knueppel said, “We’re really going in the wrong way.”

For SEPTA, sustainability is:
1. An innovative approach to do more with less
2. A new path to invest in ore infrastructure
3. A conduit for culture change
4. Investing today without sacrificing tomorrow

One innovative strategy is that SEPTA is going to have two storage devices installed at substations to capture, store and reuse regenerative braking energy. One is in revenue service and the second is in the procurement phase.

SEPTA also has worked with Energy Savings Companies to finance capital projects based on guaranteed energy savings. Knueppel said it’s a way for them to fund things, such as new boilers and new windows.

SEPTA went for APTA’s Sustainability gold level because, as Knueppel said, “We were already doing it; we didn’t know there was a name for it.”

He added, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Sound Transit has a 3-prong focus for sustainability: People, Planet, Prosperity. And CEO Joni Earl explained there were many discussions on developing a framework and determining is it more important than getting more vehicles out there.

Quarterly agency score cards measure metrics and she said there are more than 50 employees involved. She said they have also attained more than 120 sustainability targets to date. “Not without challenge,” she added.

Being a new agency, about 15 years, they didn’t have a lot of near-term opportunities and they serve cities not built around transit.

Sound Transit is looking for a dedicated funding source for sustainability so that it’s not competing with capital or operating expenditures.

And for explaining to others that question the benefit of sustainability, Earl stressed, “There’s a business case here.”