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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is dedicated to providing safe, reliable, world class public transportation in an environmentally sound and responsible manner. One of the MBTA’s core policies is to adhere to practices that not only protect the environment, but are cost effective and efficient, and therefore sustainable.
In June 2010, the GreenDOT initiative was launched by the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation to establish a comprehensive plan to make the transportation department the national leader in environmental responsibility. The plan included aggressive goals in three specific areas; reduction in greenhouse gases; establish healthy transportation options, and institute smart growth development. When presenting this initiative as an ongoing effort, the Secretary of Transportation, Richard Davey stated “One of the hallmarks of MassDOT is our openness to look beyond the traditional notions of transportation and consider our impact on the world around us. We don’t move buses, or planes or cars, we move people. As a result, we are increasing our emphasis on environmental sustainability, considering the intersection of transportation policy and health and grappling with the reality that climate change requires resiliency in our planning and asset deployment.”
Along with a safe, reliable transportation system, environmental sustainability stewardship will continue to be a primary focus of the MBTA. By providing a sustainable transportation system, the MBTA is an integral part of the health of the communities it serves. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the health of people who use mass transit, whether it is something as basic as walking to the bus and subway or fewer greenhouse gases emitted in the atmosphere because there are fewer automobiles on the road. A study1 by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) in 2012 showed how a reduction in service that would cover a $161 million shortfall in revenue would cost the greater metropolitan area $272 million in associated health care costs.
The impacts of climate change, including extreme storms and more frequent storms, create massive problems for the transportation infrastructure and especially for the MBTA. The MBTA works with other state agencies to prevent greenhouse gas emissions with the eventual goal of slowing down climate change. At the same time, the MBTA has to prepare for the possibility of a super storm, with the ultimate objective being the safety of its riders. The MBTA is addressing the resiliency of our infrastructure and seeking out ways to harden it to prepare for what will be the inevitable increase in the size and frequency of major hurricanes and storm events.
The MBTA is committed to sustainable transportation for the communities it serves and will continue to look for the best way to provide those services as to assure the health of the citizens and the environment they live in.The links on the right are some of the projects and initiatives the MBTA is working on to help make Boston and the surrounding communities more sustainable.
APTA Sustainability Pledge
In May 2012, the MBTA Acting General Manager, Jonathan R. Davis, signed the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Sustainability Commitment Pledge. APTA’s Sustainability Commitment is a voluntary program for transit agencies and other organizations involved in public transportation to join and pledge their commitment to sustainability. The basic premise as stated in the commitment is, “preserving the environment, being socially responsible and maintaining economic viability, with an overall contribution to quality of life.”
Transit agencies that sign the APTA Sustainability Pledge commit to instituting procedures, policies and programs designed to quantify their level of continuous improvements in the areas of water, energy and fuel consumption, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, increased recycling and decreased waste generations as well as other areas within their organization. Signers are rated based upon an evaluation system that qualifies their level of implementation from Bronze to Silver, to Gold and finally Platinum. Each level represents a bigger commitment and thus a reduction in critical environmental categories such as greenhouse gas emissions.
The core commitment to sustainability starts with the men and women who work on the front lines at the Authority and continues all the way to the highest levels of the organization, including the Governor, the members of the MBTA Board of Directors, Secretary of Transportation, and the MBTA’s General Manager. The primary goal of the Authority is to strive for sustainable operations, not just on the environmental front, but as an ongoing strategic relationship with the communities it serves. Governor Deval Patrick stated during the introduction of the Massachusetts GreenDOT initiative, “By making this commitment, MassDOT has declared its contribution to creating a clean energy economy for Massachusetts. In the coming years, we will see the
results in smarter growth, cleaner vehicles, and jobs devoted to building a lower carbon transportation system.”
The MBTA has reported to APTA on our sustainability indicators from 2009 through 2013 inclusive. Over this period of time, the MBTA realized significant improvements in most of the critical sustainability indicators, and as a result has earned a Gold Level Achievement from APTA, making the MBTA one of only 13 of the more than 400 transit agencies in the country to achieve this rating.
A link to the APTA Sustainability Commitment is:
Environmental & Sustainability Management System (ESMS)
The MBTA’s Environmental Department is leading the MBTA’s efforts to update and improve upon its Environmental Management System (EMS). An EMS is a commonly employed environmental planning tool to guide organizational efforts to improve upon sustainability and environmental friendliness, through such methods as comprehensive asset management, document control, documenting and adhering to legal requirements and outlining responsibilities, emergency preparedness, issuing a broad organizational environmental policy, and laying out objectives and targets. The MBTA’s Environmental Department, with respect to its EMS, is training in, and adhering to, the ISO 14001 Standard. This international standard is implemented and certified in many different industries, validating an organization’s EMS. EMS training and EMS updates are an ongoing process with the express purpose of bolstering the MBTA’s sustainability planning and implementation initiatives.
Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency
Since the first subway cars traveled the Tremont Street tunnel in 1897, the MBTA has become the 5th largest transit agency in the country, moving approximately 1.3 million riders to work, school, medical appointments, and cultural centers around Greater-Boston every day. However, resiliency and adaptation to climate change impacts were not the focus, when decisions were made to locate MBTA stations, transit lines, and facilities decades ago. Much of the MBTA network was built on or near low-lying areas and near local rivers or the ocean. Moreover, a significant portion of Boston itself is built on “landfill” that was once under water and is prone to revert to its natural state in the event of floods or significant rain fall.
Unfortunately, climate change science suggests that storms with high intensity rainfall over short periods are likely to become more prevalent and more severe and that facilities such as these will be particularly vulnerable to those intense events. The MBTA recognizes the importance of protecting vulnerable, key transit assets to avoid costly replacement and negative service impacts.
The MBTA is in the process of developing a comprehensive analysis of all of its assets, including risks based on increased climate effects. As part of its program to update the MBTA’s Asset Management Database, the MBTA is identifying those assets that are sensitive to or threatened by increased storms and severe weather events. By flagging these assets in the asset management database, the MBTA will be better equipped to track, monitor and respond to the state of good repair of those climate change sensitive assets. In addition, the MBTA has made Climate Change Adaptation a key decision-making criteria when deciding which projects are funded in its Capital Investment Plan. All capital funding requests must include an assessment as to how the particular project will address the MBTA’s program to make the system more resilient to extreme storms. While issues such as service criticality, safety, increased mode shift, and other criteria have long been used to decide on funding programs, the degree to which the project makes the system more resilient to climate change is now an added decision making criteria.