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APTA Conference on Sustainability, New York City - July 20, 2005


Remarks: Jennifer L. Dorn, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration

Telephone: 202.366.4043

Let me begin today by acknowledging the tragic and despicable terrorist events in London just two weeks ago. Secretary Mineta and I were very proud that this industry responded with vigor to the “orange” threat level, even before it was officially declared at the national level.  You promptly increased public awareness announcements, stepped up security patrols and visibility, and used bomb detection canine teams where available.

Unfortunately, these events are a grim reminder that we cannot afford to become complacent about our security obligations… and the costs of doing business in this potentially dangerous world.  They also reinforce the importance of the security priorities that both FTA and the transit industry have identified – public awareness, employee training, emergency preparedness.

Many of you have taken “Transit Watch” and adapted it as your own.  Frankly, the “See something, say something” tag line that originated in New York and that has been adopted by several large transit systems is a great way to get our key message across.  But, as we now know, the London bombers were suicide bombers…and there were some people who noticed them before the bombs went off.  Yet no one reported the suspicious behavior…clearly reinforcing the “say something” component of our public messages.

FTA will, of course, continue to develop and offer new security courses for your employees – over 66,000 of whom have been trained since 9/11.  But with a nationwide transit workforce of more than 350,000 – and normal staff turnover – it is imperative that you find the time and resources to send your employees to these free training courses.  I urge you to take a look at the security offerings on FTA’s website, and begin now – if you haven’t yet done so -- to put together a systematic security training plan for your employees.

I also want to reassure you that we are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that funds for emergency drills and preparedness activities are available to you, so that you can implement key priorities in emergency preparedness, employee training, and public awareness.

Finally, I want you to know that we in FTA have already experienced that the new leadership in the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, in particular, is making a big difference for transit.  Many of you participated in joint conference calls with me and the acting director of TSA following the London events.

I am extremely grateful for your candid advice and consultation… and I trust that you, too, felt the renewed emphasis on collaboration that was so clearly evident to me.

Thank you, Fred (Hansen), for your leadership in sustainability, and for inviting me today to APTA’s first-ever conference on this important topic.  I guess it’s no surprise that Fred is from that widely noted “green” State of Oregon – my own home State, I am proud to say. Your reputation and experience as a state and national leader in the environment, and your business savvy as Portland Metro’s CEO make you a natural champion of sustainability – a concept I hope is warmly embraced by this industry.

But, to be honest, I do feel a little out of my element here.  The complexities of achieving sustainability in construction and operations is a bit beyond my comfort zone.  It reminds me a little of a friend of mine who was in the market for a new car.  When the salesperson enthusiastically inquired if she’d like to look under the hood at the engine, she asked, “Why? Does it come in different colors?”

In all seriousness… I am so pleased to be here… and to endorse the idea that energy conservation, sustainable development, and alternative fuels are not the sole province of the Sierra Club. These concepts - these values - belong to all of us.

And I am proud to be part of this Administration, serving under a President who has so clearly articulated his vision on this issue.  In a recent radio address to the nation, President Bush declared, “We must find smarter ways to meet our energy needs, and we must encourage Americans to make better choices about energy consumption."

Right behind walking and cycling, transit has long been the nation’s most sustainable mode of transportation.  Indeed, our reputation as an environmentally-friendly form of transportation has for many years attracted “choice” riders who care about the environment.  And with good reason.

A recent APTA-sponsored study concluded that, for every passenger mile traveled, when compared with private automobile use, public transportation –

Today, environmentalists are joined on our transit systems by people who feel just as strongly about reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.  Public transportation use saves more than 855 million gallons of gasoline a year – or 45 million barrels of oil.  That, the APTA study concludes, is the equivalent of one month of oil imports from Saudi Arabia…three months of the energy that Americans use to heat, cool, and operate their homes… or half the energy used to manufacture all computers and electronic equipment in America.

It is clear that increasing transit ridership is an environmentally sound and energy-efficient policy goal – and, as you know, that is one very important reason that FTA and APTA have made increased transit ridership our number one strategic objective. 

But, as you’ll hear throughout this conference, there is much more that we can do as an industry to promote sustainable communities, energy independence, and environmental stewardship.  It is time for us to think more broadly – as all American businesses must do – about how we can conserve energy and protect the environment.

The good news is that there is also a powerful business case for doing what I like to think of as “the right thing.”  Companies used to think that sustainable business practices were a drain on profits…that they had to choose between “going green” and going “for the green.”  Today, technological advances have turned this paradigm on its head. We now recognize that sustainable business practices can actually enhance the bottom line.

There is no better indication of that paradigm shift than the keen interest in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index…. an investment portfolio that includes 300 companies from 24 countries that lead their industries in terms of sustainability.  Each company must earn its place annually based on a thorough assessment of its economic, environmental and social performance.  Currently, over $3 billion is now invested in these sustainability-driven portfolios.  When quantifying sustainability makes it to the Dow Jones, you know the concept has become more than just trendy.

According to the President and CEO of an aluminum manufacturer [Alcan] that has earned its place on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, “There is no doubt in my mind that sustainability makes good business sense and our business progress this year demonstrates the point.  Sustainability”, he says, “drives us to become a better investment, a better employer, a better neighbor, and a better company - creating value today and preserving it for tomorrow.”

In other words, sustainability is good business… no matter what business you are in.

Here in New York, FTA knew that we would need a proactive strategy to deal with the environmental complexities of rebuilding the transportation infrastructure that was destroyed on 9/11. One major challenge is the cumulative effect that numerous simultaneous construction projects – transit, highway, and office buildings – would have on the environment and the community.

Working hand-in-hand with the Environmental Protection Agency, FTA’s Lower Manhattan Recovery Office convinced project sponsors to use a common approach and methodology to analyze the environmental impact of their projects – an approach that gave us the ability to simultaneously assess the cumulative effects of all the projects scheduled for construction.  This approach has not only expedited the environmental review, but it has made it easier for us and the public to understand the impacts…and manage them.

There are numerous project sponsors – including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the New York State and New York City Departments of Transportation, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  And, to their great credit, they have all agreed to a baseline set of environmental mitigation and conservation measures. 
For example, they will all use ultra-low sulfur fuel construction equipment, and special processes to prevent dirt particles from escaping into the air.  They have also agreed to use sustainable design – utilizing renewable energy sources, like solar panels, wherever possible, and recycling demolition waste to avoid adding to municipal and industrial landfills.  And the MTA has agreed to demolish buildings by deconstructing them, instead of imploding them, to minimize negative effects on air quality.

There is still much work to be done to minimize the environmental and community impacts of the construction that will occur over the next several years in Lower Manhattan.  But we are all working together to coordinate construction schedules that will minimize noise, dust and vehicle emissions.

I know that you can appreciate the tremendous complexity of rebuilding Lower Manhattan.  In light of the number and variety of stakeholders involved, it is all the more breathtaking that sustainable design and environmental stewardship are consensus values… part of the Lower Manhattan Environmental Performance Commitments to which every project sponsor has made a commitment.

New York, of course, is not the only transit community that has committed itself to sustainable design and environmental stewardship – and reaped financial benefits in doing so.  In Portland, Oregon, TriMet pioneered new construction practices that save money by protecting the environment.  Completed four months early and millions under budget in May 2004, TriMet’s construction of the Interstate MAX Yellow Line was a model of green construction practices.

TriMet estimates they saved $3 million in construction costs by going green.

How did they do it?  By recycling everything they could. They used recycled plastic bollards, instead of steel, in the paved track-way.  They reduced their demolition, trucking and disposal fees by nearly $2.4 million – that’s million – by grinding up the existing road base and adding a new layer of asphalt on top of it.  And they saved over $185,000 by similarly recycling pavement and track.

Sustainable design and construction practices are vitally important.  But I know that many of you have limited opportunities to put those strategies into play.  Major construction projects are not undertaken every year by every transit agency.  So, many of you are likely to find your greatest opportunities for sustainability in operations, maintenance and administration.

We all know, for example, that maintaining the tire pressure on our cars improves gas mileage… and the same is true for your buses.  Out in Portland, Fred is saving an average of six-tenths of a mile per gallon – and millions of dollars a year – by implementing three simple strategies.

In addition to keeping the tires properly inflated and checking that daily, they have also modified the software to change the engine shift points sooner, and reduced the play in the front wheels of their buses by reinforcing the tie bars and reducing tire drag.  [Now, I didn’t look under the hood, so to speak, to know how, precisely, to do that…but Fred’s operation chief knows!]

Some transit agencies utilize recycling opportunities in the context of bus maintenance.  Surely it is possible – and perhaps even (dare I use the word?) profitable – to recycle used oil, tires or other parts.   In fact, some transit agencies have even made it a practice to use re-refined oil in their vehicles – this practice has proven to be cost and performance neutral, but there is a clear benefit in terms of sustainability, with no new oil required.

Of course those are just a few of the things that we, as an industry, can and should do every day – because they make good business sense and because they make good environmental sense.  Throughout this conference, you’ll hear general managers and consultants from properties of all sizes and from all over North America talk about how sustainability is helping them improve performance. By the end of these three days, I trust that you will leave convinced, if you are not already, that good sustainability practices are actually good business practices …and that you will have significant new ideas and tools to integrate these practices in your own agency.

But if we do only this, we will have missed a key opportunity to maximize the true benefits of sustainability in our communities.  Those benefits translate even beyond our own industry…and transit agencies are in a perfect position to leverage them.  Transit agencies across the country are making real progress in transit-oriented development.  And FTA is trying to spur those efforts through studies, workshops and community forums.

By getting involved at the design stage, agencies can not only influence the demand side of transit by ensuring that communities a build to offer attractive transit, but they can also reduce the need to use any motor-powered vehicles at all by designing high quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

By working closely with governmental and business partners to develop viable mixed-use neighborhoods that fully integrate effective transit options, transit can influence where people choose to live, retaining residents in areas that both support and are supported by transit.  This approach increases ridership and community livability, while promoting energy conservation, as people do not have to use a quart of gas to get a quart of milk.

As a side note, let me say that we are trying now to figure out a way to quantify these benefits… as Fred would say, to measure the “trip not taken” as one benefit of transit-oriented development.

Some of you may be familiar with the long-standing community of West Hyattsville, in the suburbs of Washington DC.  While there is a “strip center” to the larger area of Hyattsville, including a county courthouse and police headquarters, the arrival of a subway station at West Hyattsville has provided the opportunity to create a true “town center” for the first time in over a century.

West Hyattsville’s transit-oriented development strategy will transform approximately 80 acres of underutilized land and aging commercial space near the Metrorail station into a compact, mixed-use, state-of-the-art “transit village.”  The park-and-ride area is re-conceived as a town square, and natural areas surrounding the station are enhanced and well-maintained.  The adjacent community is integrated into the new transit village, with the station acting as an achor. T will feature approximately 3,600 new residential units, offering a diversity of housing choices, and approximately one million square feet of commercial space…creating more than 4,000 jobs. Community officials plan to use the project as a case study before pursuing a similar strategy near other Metrorail stations throughout the system.

Opportunities like this do not just occur in large urbanized areas.  Rapid Central Station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Washoe County in Nevada are two notable examples in smaller communities.  Each has combined innovative technology and cutting-edge design in their stations to create a truly people-oriented space.  Each contributes to the “auto trip not taken,” as well, because they have thoughtfully and systematically planned their joint development…not as individual projects, but as a user-friendly network of community services and amenities.  This approach has been shown to improve the quality of a consumer’s trip, and the value of the transit center to the community.

In a large community or small, success with this macro-view of sustainable development is not only possible, it is imperative if we are to realize the full potential that transit offers to communities.

As transit leaders, you have a unique opportunity to achieve a win-win for your transit agency and for the environment. Those kinds of opportunities don’t come along very often.

And, in that spirit, I hope that as you attend the conference sessions over the next several days, you will each commit to identifying three things that your transit agency can do to save energy, protect the environment, or promote sustainable community development.

In the words of President Bush, let’s “harness our innovative spirit in this new century, and … leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner, a healthier, and a more secure America.”

Thank you. Have an enjoyable and productive conference.

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact