SEPTA Wins "Gold," Hosts Sustainability Conference

August 17, 2012

U.S. Transit Industry in Philadelphia to Sample Progress

Last week, SEPTA was recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for industry-leading achievements towards sustainability performance targets. APTA awarded SEPTA with a "Gold" level recognition under its Sustainability Commitment and cited its wayside energy storage project and aggressive hybrid bus campaign as examples of SEPTA's cutting-edge approach to sustainability. "SEPTA is only the fourth public transit system to achieve the Gold Recognition Level," said King County Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond, who serves as the Chair of the APTA Sustainability Committee and presented the award. "SEPTA is a national leader in sustainability, and employees and riders should be very proud." (For coverage of award, click here.)

The award was accepted by SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey in front of more than 150 transit industry officials who had descended on Philadelphia for the 8th annual APTA "Sustainability & Public Transportation Workshop". The three day conference was an opportunity to showcase all of the progress that Greater Philadelphia has made in building a more sustainable region.

The Conference

The conference theme, which focused on the connection between sustainability and state of good repair, strongly resonated with conference attendees, especially those from regions where aging infrastructure will cost billions of dollars to rebuild. These capital needs, combined with budgetary impacts associated with historic ridership growth, funding cuts, and severe weather events have compelled SEPTA and others to more seriously consider the value of sustainability on infrastructure vulnerability, and to develop strategies that reduce future risks.

For three days, attendees sampled local initiatives to address these strategic issues, and heard from experts on advancements in sustainability best practices from across the industry. The following is a summary of events:

DAY 1: The conference started with SEPTA tours that highlight its triple bottom line (economic-social-environmental) approach to sustainability:

  • FOOD ACCESS IN WEST PHILADELPHIA: SEPTA partnered with The Enterprise Center (TEC) to host a tour of its 46th Street Station area in West Philadelphia, which in the past two years has become a model of SEPTA's approach to sustainability. The station, rehabbed in the mid-2000s, has become an anchor for sustainable community redevelopment. SEPTA has leased a lot adjacent to the station to TEC, which has converted the land into an urban farm. A 1000-gallon cistern was installed to capture rainwater from the station building to irrigate the farm. Solar panels are being installed on the station building to power the irrigation system. And now, community youths are being engaged through a program to learn urban agriculture, and their produce is sold through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at SEPTA headquarters in Center City. (Read the Case Study here.)
SEPTA's Manager of Strategic Business Planning & Sustainability Marion Coker with Young Entrepreneurs at Walnut Hill Community Farm
  • RAILS-TO-TRAILS ON THE MANAYUNK BRIDGE: Sponsored by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), SEPTA partnered with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to host a bike tour from Center City along the Schuylkill River Trail to Manayunk. Along the way, participants sampled SEPTA's initiatives to educate customers on how to use its bus bike racks, Philadelphia's soon-to-be-complete TIGER-funded trail projects, and SEPTA's historic Manayunk Bridge, which is in the process of being converted into a multi-purpose trail that will be integrated into the regional trail network.
  • WAYSIDE ENERGY STORAGE ON THE MARKET-FRANKFORD LINE: SEPTA hosted a tour of its Letterly Substation in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, where a wayside energy storage device has been installed to capture, store, and reuse regenerative braking from the Market-Frankford Line. The device, currently in its demonstration phase, will also participate as a distributed energy resource in the frequency regulation market to generate revenue that will improve the project's return on investment. Project partners Viridity Energy, Saft Batteries, and ABB Envitech, were on hand to discuss the innovative project approach, which has received international media attention.
SEPTA Chief Engineering Officer for Power Andrew Gillespie (Right) Leads a Tour of the New Storage Device
  • ART IN TRANSIT: Philadelphia is a city known for public art from Oldenburg's Clothes Pin to Robert Indiana's iconic Love sculpture. SEPTA gave conference attendees and opportunity to sample the installations with a self-guided tour of Art In Transit commissions. Tour materials featured original works of public art created along the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines.

DAY 2: In the morning, a panel moderated by SEPTA Board Member and City of Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Transportation & Utilities Rina Cutler highlighted the evolution of sustainability at SEPTA. Panelists included SEPTA Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel, Chief Financial Officer Richard Burnfield, and Executive Director of DVRPC Barry Seymour. The panel discussed the importance of reframing the conversation about sustainability to focus on return on investment to stay relevant as funding decisions are made. Panelists agreed that sustainability has a foundational role to play in the region's future, and one that will continue to grow in importance.

The remainder of Day 2 featured sessions of speakers from across the industry. For example, a panel on the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) described the six livability principles that have helped to reshape, realign and refocus Federal plans and programs to achieve more long-term, sustainable outcomes: provide more transportation choices, promote equitable, affordable housing, increase economic competitiveness, support existing communities, leverage federal investment, and value communities and neighborhoods. Speakers described how these six principles are now being used to help define and guide federal investments across federal programs.

HDR Group's David Taylor (center) moderates a panel on the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities on Aug. 7, 2012. Panelists include (from left to right): Kate Mattice, FTA; John Thomas, EPA; Shelly Poticha, HUD [Photo: By Marion Coker/SEPTA]

DAY 3: The conference's final day featured a session on the APTA Sustainability Commitment and its role in promoting the use of sustainability performance indicators at member agencies. Panelists included representatives from APTA's four Gold-level agencies - Sound Transit (Seattle, WA), Intercity Transit (Olympia, WA), TransLink (Vancouver, BC), and SEPTA. The discussion focused on the process - how each agency structured their program, challenges encountered during the planning stage, and the benefits that have accrued from implementation. The conference concluded with a distinguished panel of representatives from government and academia to discuss the opportunities for the transit industry to partner with like-minded organizations to achieve positive results from their sustainability programs.

What's Next

Hosting the APTA Sustainability & Public Transportation Workshop was an opportunity to showcase all we've accomplished together as a region. But the enduring value of playing host will be the chance to apply lessons learned from other peer regions and transit agencies. SEPTA will be taking full advantage of this opportunity. Follow this journal, updated periodically, to find out more about how SEPTA continues to bring home some of the industry's best practices in sustainability to Greater Philadelphia.