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Sustainability Makes Good Sense for Transit


January 10, 2005


While some may view sustainability as the latest craze in business, it provides public transit with a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in shaping community livability. By examining operations and outreach through a sustainability lens, transit districts can improve efficiency, lessen environmental impacts, champion land use strategies that increase mobility, and reap economic benefits.

TriMet operates in a community and a state that are considered frontrunners in the race toward sustainability. Extensive recycling programs, green roofs, and storm- water catch areas to naturally filter groundwater are common in the region, and TriMet has been an active leader in implementing these and other efforts within its operation.

Internally, we have examined our practices and made significant changes to move toward sustainability. For example, in 1985, TriMet generated 39,846 gallons of hazardous waste. By changing procedures, equipment, and materials, we have been able to reduce our hazardous waste production to 358 gallons in 2002. Now all of our facilities are conditionally exempt generators.

Another example is fuel economy. The industry average for its vehicles is 3.5 miles per gallon. By tackling fuel economy from all fronts, TriMet has reached and sustained a 4.4 mpg average. The agency has two pilot efforts underway that are expected to increase its mpg average on certain vehicles to as high as 6.1. With each 0.1 gain in fixed route bus mpg, TriMet uses about 175,000 gallons less diesel fuel and saves about $150,000 per year.

Externally, TriMet works closely with governmental and business partners to develop viable mixed-use neighborhoods that fully integrate effective transit options. By getting involved at the design stage, TriMet can influence the demand side of transit by ensuring communities are built to offer attractive transit alternatives as well as walking and bicycling. This approach increases ridership and community mobility and cuts down on natural resource use, as people do not have to use a quart of gas to get a quart of milk.

By naming sustainability as an agency goal, TriMet has decreased its environmental foot print; improved its ability to provide quality service; increased ridership; and cut costs. For transit, sustainability makes good business sense and environmental sense.


Hansen, Fred, General Manager, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon, Portland, Ore.

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