The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) 2012 Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop kicked off in downtown Philadelphia, Pa., this week. “Innovative Partnerships for Sustainability and State of Good Repair,” will focus on the connection between sustainability and “state of good repair” (SOGR) and how innovative partnerships are being forged to advance both objectives.
Here to Hear Best Practices
APTA Sustainability Committee Chair; APTA Board of Directors Member; and General Manager, King County Metro Transit Kevin Desmond welcomed attendees to the workshop and outlined the goals and objectives. With the increasing fiscal constraints, agencies experiencing record ridership growth in all modes, aging infrastructure, and severe weather events causing damage across the country, Desmond said we need to figure out how to keep up with the backlog of needed projects, how to prioritize, and how to find the dollars to invest in the needed sustainable practices.
APTA Board of Directors Member; General Manager, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Joseph Casey shared an update of SEPTA’s achievements in sustainable practice and said finding ways for bikes, buses and pedestrians need to co-exist. One of the strongest advocates for sustainability in the region is Mayor Michael Nutter. Via video message, Mayor Nutter said SEPTA has become recognized as a national leader for sustainable practices and that in Philadelphia, they plan for action.
Going Beyond Green
Rina Cutler, deputy mayor, mayor’s office of Transportation and Utilities, city of Philadelphia and SEPTA board member, led a roundtable discussion on the evolution of sustainability at SEPTA to implement a comprehensive sustainability planning framework focused on the triple bottom line – economic, social and environmental sustainability – as the key to the region’s long-term sustainability.
Cutler talked about an earlier time when words like “sustainability” and “livability” didn’t exist before. With Mayor Nutter’s goal of making Philadelphia the greenest city in America, the connection between sustainability, SOGR and livability is key. She acknowledged that looking at how one pays for this is a challenge that needs to be addressed. And generating a laugh from the audience was her added comment, “There are two places in my office where things go to die. First is my law department and second is my finance department.”
Turning it over to SEPTA’s CFO & Treasurer Richard Burnfield, he said he’s also known in the office as CF-No. Back to a more serious note, he stressed, “Sustainability is figuring out a way to grow, evolve and improve over time.”
Being creative in their approaches, whether it was in partnerships or grants, is necessary with the difficult financial restraints SEPTA faces. Burnfield also said they look at the return on investment (ROI), whether it’s a big or small projects and how it will impact the authority in the short-term and in the long-term.
Talking more about ROI, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Barry Seymour said there may not always be a dollar ROI, but it’s important to look at all metrics, including the softer ones which are equally important. “If less people are screaming at you, that’s a positive return.” When it comes to the social infrastructure, to what extent are your community groups, ridership groups, engaged in the process? Do they feel they have an opportunity to voice their concerns?
Jeffrey Knueppel, assistant general manager/chief engineer for SEPTA added that as time goes on, you get more experienced at things and there are ways to structure things to reduce costs. “We may have a couple initial projects that come out with a bottom line that’s not so great; we learn things going forward.”