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TransLink reaches gold in sustainability

In June, I told you about CMBC’s (Coast Mountain Bus Company) Idle Free campaign. CMBC was recognized by CUTA (Canadian Urban Transit Association) for reducing CO2 emissions for the entire fleet.

Trish Webb, Director of Corporate Sustainability

Trish Webb, Director of Corporate Sustainability

That initiative was one of many elements that have contributed to an enterprise-wide initiative to be more sustainable as a transit authority. Recently, these efforts have been acknowledged by APTA (American Public Transportation Association) resulting in TransLink becoming the first ever member to reach the gold level of the APTA Sustainability Commitment!

What this means is that among 77 transit authorities and affiliated organizations, including the transit organizations in New York, Montréal, Toronto, Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland, TransLink ranks the highest in sustainability.

Three key markers of sustainability helped TransLink reach gold level status:

  • Cutting diesel fuel use by 1.28 million litres; in large part due to the Idle Free campaign
  • Curbing energy use in facilities by 16 per cent per passenger kilometre through energy retrofits and other changes to improve energy efficiency
  • Reducing CO2e (Equivalent Carbon Dioxide) emissions per passenger kilometre by 18 per cent as a result of ridership increases, the addition of 180 hybrid buses to the fleet and commuters choosing less carbon-dependent transit options such as the new Canada Line

The total energy savings in 2010 were equal to 4000 fewer tones of greenhouse gases (CO2e) and 58 fewer tonnes of Criteria Air Contaminants emitted over 2009 levels, at a time when ridership increased 10 per cent.

To better understand the APTA Sustainability Commitment and TransLink’s approach to sustainability, I spoke with Trish Webb, TransLink’s Director of Corporate Sustainability.

How many people at TransLink work in sustainability?

I’m the only person whose job is specifically related to sustainability. We do have other people working in operations who look at environmental issues or energy issues, but I’m looking at sustainability across the whole enterprise. It’s my job to implement our sustainability policy, which I’ve been doing over the past two years.

Tell me about the APTA Sustainability Commitment

It was created in 2008, and TransLink signed on as one of the founding signatories. There are now 77 members on the committee. Some of the members are transit agencies, and some of them are transportation industry suppliers. They all work within transportation. The commitment lays out targets and degrees of compliance for each of its levels, which are bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Depending on which level you want to apply for, you have to have more improvements and metrics at a higher percentage. Right now, there are three agencies at the bronze level (Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, IMPulse NC, Inc. and San Mateo County Transit District, SAMTRANS bus service) and two at the silver level (Foothill Transit [San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, California] and Sound Transit [Central Puget Sound, Washington]).

Did we go through the bronze and silver levels to get to gold?

No, we skipped right over those and went straight for gold. Since the commitment was put in place in 2008, we’ve done a lot of work on sustainability in those two years.

When I started my job, we had to figure out what the requirements were for these levels, and we had to get a lot of things in place. When you only have one person doing the work, you have to be very targeted about what you do. So I really focused on getting our first sustainability report put together, and that required quite a bit of work. I waited until that job was done and a few other things in place before we applied for any kind of recognition. We had to map out what we had done ourselves before we mapped out our road forward.

Are these levels based on any other sustainability benchmarks?

This spring, the APTA Transit Sustainability Guidelines document were released. It a detailed document that looks at how you deploy your system: Is it accessible to various people? What does the network look like? Of what quality is the infrastructure? Corporately, I’m responsible for the things that we control, which are emissions, water use, how we deal with our customers and employees, our safety record and those kinds of things. APTA hasn’t come out with a lot directions on these areas, but what they do provide is metrics on emissions, energy, water, cost recovery, etc. And we’ve received our gold status for these metrics.

What determines a good sustainability goal?

Our sustainability policy commits us to be a recognized world leader in transportation excellence. So what I’ve done is to report to two international standards.

One is the Global Reporting Initiative, which covers all kinds of industries. It’s really geared to reporting and making a standard that measures the accuracy and completeness of your reports. However, we don’t compare our performance against other industries. There’s a reason for that. Our service offering is a sustainability tool. So we offer public transit, access to bike lanes, and access to information about transit, etc. This is so people can behave in a way that is more sustainable. That’s different than manufacturing carpets or blue jeans and trying to make your manufacturing process more sustainable. We have a sustainable offering. What we do is a sustainability function. What I look at is how we create this sustainable tool in a way that reduces our environmental footprint.

The other international standard that we adhere to is the UITP (International Association of Public Transport). They don’t have the detailed sustainability guidelines that APTA has just put out, but they do have a reporting framework. So when we did our sustainability report in 2010, it met the UITP standards for sustainability.

We’re also members of the CUTA (Canadian Urban Transportation Association). The difference with them is that there are few organizations that are the same size as TransLink in Canada. There are really only the Montréal and Toronto area transit authorities that we would look at and compare ourselves against.

So it makes sense that we would be part of APTA because of the large transit agencies who are members. Also, the relationship between American transit agencies and their federal government requires them to do a lot more reporting than the Canadian agencies are required to do. So we learn a lot from being members of APTA.

I wanted to note that one of the things that help us score high in sustainability is our use of hydroelectricity. We get better numbers because our electricity is relatively clean. If you’re in New York, you’re running on coal-based electricity. I’ve seen numbers that show that a trolley bus in San Francisco will get worse environmental scores compared to a diesel bus. That’s because of the technology they’re using, but it’s also about where they are getting the electricity.

What about our trolley system?

Our trolley system is very new, and we’re running on an energy source that’s 94% to 96% clean. We score along side the STM (Montréal) when it comes to CO2e per passenger kilometre. They are a good agency to compare ourselves to because Quebec also has a lot of hydroelectricity.

Is much of the challenge in reducing our carbon footprint related to using buses?

Yes, most of our passengers are carried on buses. Most of our buses today are still diesel. We have roughly 1600 buses. Roughly 240 of those are trolley buses. About 200 are hybrid-electric diesels. So the remaining roughly 1160 buses in the fleet are diesels. There’s no question that outstrips the emission of our rail, police or corporate divisions. We’re buying about 50 million litres of fuel a year, of which 42 million litres goes to our bus company.

Is the solution to reducing our carbon footprint promoting initiatives like Idle Free CMBC, or is it changing technology?

It’s both. We’re continuing Idle Free CMBC. There’s still some savings to be had there. We are also continuing to replace our fleet. When we do that, we look at cleaner technologies. Hybrid-electric diesels are a big one. We’re also looking at bringing in the new generation of compressed natural gas buses. Those have zero particulate matter, so they’re a very clean option.

Where do we go from here sustainability wise?

We’re looking to go to the platinum level next. It’s a steep hill to climb. The degree to which you have to reduce your emission and water use makes it difficult. It might take us two years.

And after platinum?

Well, we might have to reset the bar! What I have heard from APTA is that it’s very important that TransLink has reached gold status because it shows other agencies that it is possible. The Sustainability Commitment has been around for three years and this is the first time gold has been attained.

This award helps us to explain what our sustainability goals are all about and that we’re really getting somewhere. It saves a lot of money on fuel and helps give an incentive to make some big differences without spending too much money.

Thanks for the time, Trish, and congratulations! To learn more about APTA and transit sustainability, you can reference the sustainability section of the APTA website. You can also check out the sustainability page on the TransLink website.


  • By Marvin B, September 28, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    A good way to cut emissions even more is to build bus lanes instead of bicycle lanes. Buses moving more freely and quickly will get people out of their cars and less diesel spewing from the bus. Traffic signals geared towards getting buses moving will also help. There are things that can be done that don’t involve an upgrade in technology that will greatly improve the overall emissions in our communities.

  • By Cliff, September 29, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

    Or turning some more routes into trolleybus routes. I know it’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Routes that climb hills and run often are prime candidates. The 135 and 130 off the top of my head…

  • By andrew, September 29, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    i dunno if you can make the 135 a trolley route…
    when it snows, the trolleys sometimes have poor contact with the wires and lose power

    what about routes like the 15/50 or the 22?

  • By Kevin, September 30, 2011 @ 12:19 am

    Marvin B, I’m all for dedicated bus lanes (to the fullest extent possible) but can we please stop ragging on bike lanes? We need an integrated transportation system which includes public transit, walking, and yes even biking.

    Besides, the separated lanes in Vancouver are not even funded by Translink. We shouldn’t need to choose between bike lanes and bus lanes; both of those mode choices are natural allies and can work very nicely together.

  • By Joe, September 30, 2011 @ 6:30 am

    I think a good candidate for trolleys would be the 41 or 49. In the case of the 41, they’d only have to put up wires from Crown to the loop.

  • By Marvin B, September 30, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    Kevin, not ragging on bike lanes. I know they are not built nor funded by Translink. However when every municipality and Translink are claiming poverty it’s a smack in the face (not to mention my pocketbook) when funds are misused. When there’s only so much money to go around, perhaps we should be looking at the projects that get the most “bang”. I believe bus lanes should be a priority over bike lanes. The city of Vancouver should not have gone ahead with bike lanes at this time. It would be more useful to get people out of their cars by making bus travel quicker. Once more people are in buses (meaning less cars downtown) then bikes lanes could be introduced. The CoV should have acted as a partner with Translink in building more bus lanes at this time. I think that the way bike lanes were introduced was a bit backwards.

  • By Ben K, September 30, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    Marvin wrote: “It would be more useful to get people out of their cars by making bus travel quicker. Once more people are in buses (meaning less cars downtown) then bikes lanes could be introduced.”

    How about this:

    It would be more useful to get people out of their cars by making bike travel easier. Once more people are on bikes (meaning fewer cars downtown) then bus lanes could be introduced.


  • By CyclistsSuck, September 30, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    Sorry that is so wrong. I drive because of the congestion caused by cyclists and bike lanes on buses.

    BTW… I notice the October fare passes are sponsored by Young Drivers. Kudos for them to help solve the transportation problem..

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, September 30, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    Get rid of car lanes, before bike lanes. Why are we arguing over bike lanes? I can’t think of a single road with 4 bike lanes or 4 bus lanes, or 4 sidewalks.

  • By Ben K, October 1, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

    Ben K,

    That’s interesting except the majority of people who drive into downtown don’t live downtown. You have to make it easier for commuters. I don’t care if people bike, it’s just that if we’re truly serious about pollution and emissions, let’s do what’s more effective

  • By Cliff, October 3, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    The suggestion of having a couple trolleybus routes such as the 41/43 extended has also been mentioned before. There was some doubt about the wires being able to handle the higher speeds on Marine Drive, but others have said that it’s no problem. On that note, I’m sure the trolleybuses occasionally hit 70 going over the downtown bridges, so going ten under on Marine Drive’s 80kph zone is probably something that’s possible given our current capabilities. The other obvious contender for a cheap and effective trolleybus extension would be the 9 to Brentwood Mall and a small section westbound only on 70th Avenue for the 17.

    The bike lanes really needed to have some more thought put into them. A dangerous short merge has been created on Georgia Viaduct at Main Street due to the bike lane that was shoehorned there. Burrard Street at Pacfic is a fiasco because of the traffic light movements created there due to the bike lanes.

    There are two unprotected left turn lanes onto Burrard south, a movement common across the country, but one that is uncommon in B.C.. This leads to people making the turn despite throughtraffic having the right away. This nearly caused me my life last year while I was on my motorcyle attempting to straight on Paific.

    Burrard at Hornby is also an interesting intersection. Little do people know, turning left here on the red is perfectly legal. With all the backups caused by the bike lane coming off the bridge, a sign should be put up to alert drivers to this option so as to ease congestion due to the light.

    Lastly, right turns off Hornby have become a gong show in their own right. The the protected right turns are simply too short and it leads to traffic backing up several blocks. Notoriously, Hornby between Robson and Georgia is a prime example. One way to fix this, would be to make it illegal for pedestrians to cross Hornby on the north side at Robson. This way, traffic turning left from Robson and traffic on Hornby are not interacting with people crossing the street when the lights change resulting in a dangerous right of way situation between those stuck in the intersection and those trying to cross.

    The use of major arterials to run bike lanes is a mistake. Bike lanes can be run throughh residential streets with no stop signs by simply forcing vehicles to make right turns at specific cross-streets, while those cross streets have a stop (or yield) sign for bicycles to have right of way. This reduces car-bicycle interactions and frees up traffic on arterials that are often used for distances much greater than the average bicycle trip. Take it one step further and ban bicycles travelling more than one block on streets with three through lanes or more. These would mean streets like Main, Granville, Knight/Clark, Marine Drive, and Broadway would be bike free zones. These streets all have GREAT alternatives for bicyles, and the closure of streets like this to bicycles should not be seen as an affront to cycles, but as a measure of enforcing the use alternative infrastructure that the city would be investing a great deal of time and money in.

    Bus lanes are a great idea just about any place they’re used. I’d like to see bus lanes used to encourage car pooling by allowing them to be used by carpools 3+ and motorcycles as is already the case in much of the city. Instead of tearing down the viaducts, turn one of the remaining lanes into a carpool lane!

    Some enforcement would be nice too. In all areas. From cheaters on the Barnet’s HOV lanes to bicycles that run reds, enforcement would go a long way to ensuring the road is safe, orderly, and fair for everyone. I’m sure there’s a dozen bus drivers on here who could tell everyone a story about the cyclist that tried to pass on the right! I also hope our fine transit police officers have learned by now that motorcycles are permitted in the HOV lanes too! Heh heh.

  • By intoxiastaina, November 10, 2011 @ 12:53 am

    Hi! i’m like you post: to my @vdoeopei twitter

Other Links to this Post

  1. The Buzzer blog » The October 2011 Buzzer and Chanda Stallman: Buzzer illustrator interview — October 7, 2011 @ 9:29 am

  2. The Buzzer blog » Earth Day 2012 — April 22, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

  3. The Buzzer blog » TransLink’s 2012 Sustainability Report: tracking our environmental performance and more — October 10, 2012 @ 8:00 am

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