SEPTA transforms its Southern Bus Depot into Signature Sustainability Site

June 14, 2019
A trio of projects provided a sustainability overhaul to the authority’s south Philadelphia facility.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) believes common ground can be found between environmental goals and fiscal responsibility. The authority’s recent completion of a series of projects is providing proof to that concept as it marked the transformation of its 100-year-old Southern Bus Depot into what SEPTA calls the most sustainable facility in the entire transit industry.  

“SEPTA’s approach to sustainability is that what’s good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line,” said SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. “These sustainability projects at the Southern Depot exemplify this approach. They demonstrate that significant progress can be made towards our shared environmental goals in ways that are financially responsible. This is why SEPTA’s Sustainability Program is so well regarded, and why it has staying power.”

The Southern Bus Depot’s transformation was comprised of three distinct projects representing the breadth of environmental focus that SEPTA has undertaken in its now award-winning Sustainability Program, SEP-TAINABLE.

First, a comprehensive energy retrofit of the facility itself has achieved substantial cost savings. SEPTA reports utility costs have been reduced by more than $200,000 per year through the use of high-efficiency LED lighting, advanced controls, HVAC upgrades and building envelope improvements. The project was implemented by Constellation, under the Pennsylvania Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (GESA), which allows public agencies to partner with private Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to finance energy-saving capital upgrades at no upfront cost to the agency. The project was also supported with rebates for energy efficiency upgrades by PECO’s program funded by Pennsylvania Act 129.

Second, a stormwater retrofit, integrated with the repaving project, will capture and manage more than seven acres of water on-site in a surface-level bioretention basin and two large underground retention basins. The stormwater management system is designed to slowly release water into the sewer system, helping to achieve the city of Philadelphia’s objectives to reduce the incidence of “combined sewer overflow” events. The project was undertaken with the financial support of the Philadelphia Water Department, which manages the city’s innovative “Green Cities, Clean Waters” stormwater management plan.

Third, SEPTA has begun operating 25 battery-electric buses out of Southern District. The buses, which are manufactured by Proterra, Inc., and funded in part with a grant under the Federal Transit Administration’s “Low or No-Emission Program,” will serve Routes 29 and 79. SEPTA explains it now has the largest zero-emission bus fleet on the U.S. East Coast when the 25 battery-electric buses are combined with 38 trackless trolleys in North and Northeast Philadelphia. SEPTA also notes this project bolsters its efforts to generate non-fare box revenues, as a multi-year advertising agreement was reached with PECO to sponsor the new battery-electric bus fleet.

Combined, SEPTA says these projects represent a continued commitment to an industry-leading Sustainability Program.

“During my tenure, I have watched SEPTA grow in its approach to sustainability, from one-off projects to comprehensive, collaborative solutions,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel. “Southern District represents the best of these efforts all in the same location. For this reason, Southern District is now among the most sustainable facilities in the entire transit industry.”

He continued, “Each of the sustainability projects at Southern were undertaken with an eye towards financial responsibility. Funding from the Philadelphia Water Department for stormwater management, from PECO for energy efficiency, and from the FTA for the battery-electric buses helped to ensure that the overall program adhered to SEPTA’s ‘budget-neutral’ approach to sustainability.”

“PECO is very proud of the commitment that SEPTA has made to pioneering environmental efforts with these projects, and we’re proud to partner with them to help them achieve their sustainability goals,” said Mike Innocenzo, PECO president and CEO. “Electrification, energy efficiency and access to renewable energy is helping our residential and commercial customers save energy and money, and helping PECO contribute to a more sustainable future.”

“From an innovative battery storage network to traditional energy efficiency improvements such as LED lighting, Constellation is helping SEPTA reduce its energy consumption while managing costs,” said Larry Godleski, executive director, Distributed Energy, Constellation. “We are pleased that our energy management solutions have contributed to SEPTA realizing its sustainability goals.”

“SEPTA continues to be a leader in sustainability and we are proud to partner with them to deploy 25 zero-emission electric buses, made right here in the U.S.,” said Proterra CEO Ryan Popple. “With zero tailpipe emissions, electric buses help cut transit pollution and improve local air quality for the community.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.