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Cap Metro proceeds with vision of sustainability

Tuesday, June 29, 2021 by Seth Smalley

At the June 28 Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting, board members fielded discussion on a yearslong sustainability and planning effort put forward by Capital Metro staffers. Most of the presentation centered around the structure and vision of the plan, but did not yet address many specific, measurable goals.

“So we’ve been doing a lot of informal activities. This will be a formal opportunity to kind of connect programs that are going to run along with Cap Metro and Project Connect and take us toward a zero-emission transit agency,” said Rob Borowski, the transit agency’s sustainability officer.

The goal, Borowski explained, is to move from “gold to platinum” in the American Public Transportation Association sustainability benchmarks.

According to the APTA website, the four levels are bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Transit systems can apply for higher recognition based on “demonstration of increasingly greater numbers of short- and long-term sustainability achievements and targeted improvements across key indicators.” No further measurable specificity is offered on the APTA sustainability commitment web page.

“Our transportation fleet is well on the way to becoming zero-emission. In fact, we’ve reduced our air pollutant criteria by over 60 percent in the past five years because of the things that we’ve done,” Borowski said.

Borowski also noted that Capital Metro is making moves to comply with a new initiative from the Federal Transit Administration called the Sustainable Transit for a Healthy Planet challenge, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from public transportation.

“Now’s the time to make sure that sustainability is integrated at the levels of planning that we are going forward with,” Borowski told board members, underscoring that Capital Metro is in the process of updating its vehicle fleet and facilities.

Currently, Capital Metro is in the process of hiring consultants to “help identify best practices” and ensure that the company is meeting nationwide sustainability standards. One hundred percent of the electric energy used by Capital Metro is sourced from Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program.

“So the structure of this is, we’ll have a vision plan and several action plans.” He likened the action plans as being consistent with frameworks like Austin Energy Green Building.

The vision, Borowski explained, also includes linear projects like parks, water programs and transit.

“We have started implementing guidance through our procurement policies to get more sustainable. One example of that is in our landscaping and building maintenance.”

Capital Metro has already adopted several strategies from plans such as the Austin Community Climate Plan and the Climate Equity Plan, including the MetroBike Program and electric buses in Project Connect.

Borowski told board members that the next steps are to hire a consultant to help guide the plan and set up some focus groups.

The sustainability officer will next come before the Capital Metro board (with an actionable item) next February, tentatively.

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