Save Green by Being Green

July 12, 2013
Implementing green programs might not seem like a wise investment when an agency is working to make the most of taxpayer dollars but often its worth the financial dividends.

Being green is at the heart of everything the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority does as a transit agency and it is always looking for new ways to contribute to a better environment for its customers and the community.

One of the interesting and often overlooked benefits of a robust sustainability program for transit systems is that what’s good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line. As MARTA works to provide the best possible transit service during lean financial times, cultivating a harmonious relationship between being green and financially sound is a win-win for the customers, employees and the general public.

On the surface, implementing green programs might not seem like a wise investment when a transit agency is working to make the most of taxpayer dollars and wise financial decisions. However, MARTA has discovered the initial funding and resource allocation is certainly worth the long-term environmental and financial dividends.

One of MARTA’s premiere initiatives, and a prime example of this symbiotic relationship, is its Transit Oriented Development Program. The TOD program is designed to establish mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly communities located near transit.

With the economy slowly beginning to improve and the demand rising for convenient and accessible transit options and more livable, walkable communities, MARTA’s TOD program is poised to begin changing the way people live, work and play in the car-centric Atlanta region.

MARTA is working with developers and community stakeholders to help it move forward with the initiation of five active TODs in the next two years. It is also planning for a total of 10 TODs to be actively developed in the next two to five years. This program is expected to increase transit ridership, raise new revenues and create vibrant, sustainable communities in the metro area.

In addition, MARTA’s TOD program supports the use of sustainable building practices. The TOD guidelines advise joint development partners to embrace sustainable design, construction and operating practices as part of these projects. And MARTA is already integrating Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) into its new and retrofit projects that are currently underway including the Buckhead Station North Entrance and Bridge project and Hamilton Bus Maintenance facility.

At the Laredo Bus Facility, MARTA is operating the largest solar canopy installation in Georgia, and the second largest structure of its kind at a U.S. transit system. This green project was made possible with a $10.8 million federal grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) Program. The solar canopies are generating enough electricity to offset nearly 50 percent of the Laredo Garage’s annual electricity consumption. In addition, buses parked beneath the canopy require less air conditioning which lowers fuel consumption and expenses.
MARTA also saves money and precious natural resources by reclaiming 90 percent of the water used to wash its trains and buses. With 200 gallons required to wash a single bus and 1,500 gallons to wash a 6-car train, reusing this water has a significant impact on the environment and our bottom line. MARTA washes the water with carbon filters to remove dirt, impurities and chemicals. New chemicals are then added to allow the water to be used to clean the vehicles again and again.

MARTA is also weaving sustainable practices into its day-to-day operations to improve its environment and financial future.

MARTA’s “Green Light: Go for the Environment” initiative supports environmentally friendly practices in the workplace. MARTA employees have committed to being green in their daily activities by trash recycling and supporting the switch to hand dryers in employee restrooms.

Thanks to its recycling program, MARTA has diverted more than 100 tons of materials from landfills and saved almost $32,000 in trash collection costs. Switching to hand dryers has saved the authority another $160,000 a year in paper towel and labor costs.

In addition, MARTA employees recently welcomed new water filling stations to staff facilities in an effort to reduce waste and save on the cost of bottled water. MARTA’s transition to water filling stations is by far a cheaper and more convenient solution to using bottled water. The switch is projected to pay for itself within the first year and save more than $200,000 in subsequent years.

By using water filling stations, MARTA will also reduce the significant waste and negative effects that bottled water has on our environment. According to the Santa Clara Valley Water District, one of California's largest local water agencies, bottles used to package water take more than 1,000 years to biodegrade.

These water filling stations use an energy efficient refrigeration system and effectively remove impurities. A Green Ticker on the water dispensers will track how many plastic bottles are being saved from going in the trash each time an employee fills up with water.

Being green to save green ... now, that’s a concept that should make all transit agencies want to get on board.

Edward L. Johnson is chief administrative officer at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.