Archive for May, 2012

Buses and Trains and Trolleys—Oh My!

May 23, 2012

The presence of a public transit network as extensive as SEPTA’s is considered a key part of the Delaware Valley’s sustainability strategy. However, SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) is itself a large organization with many employees, assets, and responsibilities. In early 2011, SEPTA officially adopted a Sustainability Plan—formally accepting sustainability as one of its responsibilities. Part of this includes a determination to look for ways to incorporate sustainability across its operations to the greatest extent possible.

Like many other organizations, SEPTA defines sustainability to include the aspects of People, Planet and Profit –in its plans these are labeled Social, Environmental, and Economic, respective. Each section has several goals, with targets established for each. Where possible, the goals are expressed in terms of standard SEPTA metrics such as VMT (Vehicle Miles–VM, Revenue Vehicle Hours–RVH, and Passenger Miles Traveled-PMT). For a goal such as increasing the number of farmer’s market on SEPTA property these metrics won’t apply, but goals such as improving water use and pollutant discharge perfomance and operating expense can be and are measured using these metrics.

One of the interesting aspects about SEPTA’s program is that it includes a formal environmental policy statement. This is closely tied to the fact that SEPTA is implementing the ISO 14001 standard for environmental manangement, including the Plan-Do-Check-Act method. Plan-Do-Check-Act establishes goals, tracks progress to these goals, and calls for a continuous improvement mindset—in this case for environmental aspects of operational issues. (The International Standards Organization is a worldwide organization whose standards in many areas are recognized and implemented all over the world).

Water usage and stormwater runoff are examples of areas where an environmental challenge has morphed into a financial issue. In addition to paying for the water it uses, SEPTA is now assessed a fee for the stormwater runoff impacts of its impervious surfaces—including parking lots which have no metered water whatsoever. So any strategy that SEPTA can come up with reduce stormwater runoff can have a positive fiscal impact very quickly. For example, Instead of going into the sewers, rainwater from the renovated 46th and Market El stations is now captured. It is distributed (via a solar battery pump) to the Walnut Hill Farm located directly below the Market Frankford Line tracks.

Other areas (amongst many) of working sustainability into operations are buildings and rolling stock. One great example of buildings is the new Fox Chase Regional Rail station. This station was renovated last year, and has achieved LEED Silver certification. LEED is a well known green building certification program of the United States Green Building Council. Among other features, the building used reflective surfaces to reflect sunlight and reduce heating load. About 95% of the materials from the old station were reused and recycled.

In addition to regional rail trains that service the new Fox Chase station, SETPA also runs subway/elevated trains in the City of Philadelphia. The Market Frankford El is utilizing regenerative braking technology (like in a Toyota Prius) which essentially takes the excess energy used in slowing down the train and sells it back to the electric grid if it is profitable to do so. Think of it also analogous to “recycling” the electricity that is not needed by that particular train. In this case, the “recycled” electricity is being sold if possible and redistributed to other purposes if not. Another instance of “recycled” electricity in SEPTA’s fleet is the collection of nearly 500 hybrid buses the Authority has placed into revenue service.

This is really quite an array of activities. However, as impressive as SEPTA’s internal efforts at sustainability are, perhaps its greatest contribution to sustainability in a regional context is totality of the thousands of daily passengers it carries. These passengers are not creating demand for gasoline by taking their cars, nor are they spewing emissions into the air. I’m glad I live near public transportation routes that I can use on some of my trips. I can’t use SEPTA all the time, but when I can, I love the fact that I can get where I want to go in an environmentally friendly manner—and often at pretty close to the same amount of time driving would take me. Similar service levels, environmentally friendly—that sounds really good to me!

SEPTA’s Sustainability Program:

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