passenger Transport Banner

Passenger Transport Archive


FTA's Environmental Sustainability Initiative: A Recipe for Success


April 18, 2005


Editor's Note: Jim Barr will be among the participants in an APTA webinar on "Making the Case for Sustainability in the Public Transportation Industry," Tuesday, April 26, beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern time. See related story on page 4.


Theories of environmental sustainability abound, but 10 local transit agencies around the U.S. are translating theory into practice, and are directly addressing and managing the environmental impacts of their activities.

Thanks to an ISO 14001-based Environmental Management System training and assistance initiative developed by the Federal Transit Administration, these public transit providers are implementing a globally accepted framework to integrate environmental protection into their management structure. By focusing on creating an internal infrastructure that merges environmental programs into one systematic structure, these organizations will conserve resources, minimize environmental regulatory and compliance problems, increase management efficiency, reduce liability, and improve community relations.

The Federal Effort

In December 2003, after receiving applications and completing interviews, FTA Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn selected 10 applicant transit agencies to participate in this training. FTA used a number of criteria to select participants, including:

* Organizational commitment by transit agency leadership to EMS implementation;

* Geographic diversity;

* Previous environmental experiences; and

* Environmental challenges from operations and/or pending capital projects.

While ISO 14001 would serve as the basis of the EMS training, it would be at the discretion of the individual agencies to pursue ISO certification.

FTA selected the Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Roanoke, Va., to support the efforts of the training and assistance under a cooperative agreement. Bob Herbert, senior COTA fellow, led the contractor team, which included Kevin Considine, environmental manager at the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland, and an everyday ISO 14001 practitioner.

FTA and COTA structured the two-year program to address the specific environmental requirements of transit agencies, with the intention of developing a template for the continued EMS training of similar agencies across America. Local agencies paid for their travel and room and board at Roanoke, and the FTA funded all contractor training and assistance including site visits to the individual agencies.

COTA required teams to track both internal and external costs, such as staff (managerial) time, all other employee time, and costs of potential consulting assistance and outside training of personnel. Benefits could include savings and revenue from improved environmental performance; enhanced environmental compliance; pollution prevention and resource conservation; new customers and markets; increased efficiency; reduced costs; enhanced employee morale; improved image with the public; and greater employee awareness of environmental issues and responsibilities.

Local Agency Selection and EMS Team Makeup

FTA believes that organizational commitment to environmental protection and sustainability are the most important elements of the program, and that senior management buy-in is crucial to successful implementation. With this in mind, Dorn selected the following agencies to participate in the training:

* City of Tucson DOT, Tucson, Ariz.;

* Community Transit, Snohomish County, Wash.;

* Hampton Roads Transit, Hampton, Va.;

* Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Boston;

* Phoenix Public Transit Department;

* San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District;

* Sound Transit, Seattle;

* Transit Authority of River City, Louisville, Ky.;

* Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City; and

* Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Training teams consisted of four to seven transit agency staff, including both upper management and operational personnel. A special effort was made to include trade unionists in an attempt to harness shop-floor loyalties and assist EMS enculturation.

The selected agencies ranged from medium-size agencies with bus and paratransit services to agencies with large, complex operations including ferry services, heavy rail, commuter rail, and Bus Rapid Transit. EMS team members turned out to be exceptionally well qualified and motivated.

Baseline Environmental Reviews

COTA, a Public Entity EMS Resource Center, kicked off the training in January 2004. A one-day visit to each participating agency included meeting with executive management and the EMS core team, a COTA presentation on its Roanoke facility and course curriculum, and the performance of a baseline environmental audit within the "fenceline" of the local agency's chosen facility. The smaller "fenceline facility" was designated as the operational or departmental EMS area to simplify initial implementation.

Adopted fencelines typically included operation and maintenance facilities such as a bus barn or a rail maintenance yard.

During the initial "fenceline audit," COTA staff took note of a variety of physical conditions including site stormwater runoff, hazardous waste disposition, water and energy usage, recycling efforts, waste management, fuel storage, and environmental permitting.

Workshop Training

Agency teams attended four three-day workshops held over a 10-month period, beginning in March 2004, at COTA's Roanoke training facility. The 17 basic elements of ISO 14001 were presented over this period. This roadmap for EMS implementation included selecting individualized environmental objectives and targets based upon agency need and rigorous homework requirements.

Each team received one copy of ISO certified software designed to assist implementation, documentation, ongoing assessment, and environmental auditing of its EMS. Transit grantees can use this software "toolkit" to tailor their agency-specific EMS needs.

Supporting on-site training was a regular series of conference calls between participant teams, COTA, and FTA staff. Teams were also required to hold regular agency EMS staff meetings, maintain good documentation, and regularly brief senior management on their progress. FTA held quarterly senior manager conference calls with agency upper management, EMS teams, and contractors in an effort to maintain a high level of management support for the implementation efforts and address inter-agency roadblocks. Information sharing between teams was encouraged, and COTA staff were always available for consultation.

By the time of the third workshop in August 2004, participants really began to understand the promise of EMS, and were displaying serious enthusiasm for the program. MBTA team members in Boston said they were beginning to see "beyond" their EMS, and were identifying environmental and organizational issues that might occur down the road.

The fourth and final training workshop was completed in December 2004. By this time, many of the training teams were adopting an "EMS culture." Teams were finding that they had a tendency to begin thinking about expanding their EMS beyond the fenceline while, at the same time, maintaining their more limited focus.

As a final testament to the influence of EMS, MBTA reported that membership on the EMS team was seen as a prestigious position throughout the agency. Three teams have convinced upper management that full ISO 14001 Certification should be their next step.

Post-Workshop Activities

Although they have completed the formal training workshops, EMS teams are continuing to work on their EMS implementation goals through the spring of 2005. COTA has scheduled a two-day site pre-assessment visit to each agency in May, followed by a more formal two-day EMS compliance audit in mid-summer.

Each agency must produce a Draft Case Study by July 1 documenting its participation in the program; each agency's costs and benefits of implementing an EMS; individual and common best practices, problems, opportunities, and experiences of the participating agencies; and, based on the lessons learned, recommendations about EMS training for transit agencies in general.

By Dec. 31, 2005, COTA will deliver to FTA a Final Report on the FTA EMS Training and Assistance. The report is scheduled to be posted on FTA's web site in January 2006. FTA also intends to do a post-EMS evaluation of continued progress at each of the agencies in 2006-2007.


Barr, Jim, Environmental Protection Specialist, Office of Planning and Environment, Federal Transit Administration

Date Added


Date Edited


Return to Search Page