Kansas City Transit crosses into the Green Zone

By Mark Huffer

Sustainability, carbon footprint, and going green are buzzwords that are now woven into our daily lives. These catch phrases remind us of the impact going green really has on the public transportation industry.

In the good old days not so long ago, the fact that public transportation could remove 40 automobiles off the road was a very compelling message. Now we have to take into account the type of fuel the buses are using, whether or not the engines meet EPA standards, and whether those 40 cars are hybrids or clunkers.

Today, ready or not, transit professionals must demonstrate their commitment to the environment in terms we had not heard of 10 years ago.

Heartland of America

Here in the Heartland of America, where the air quality is decent and traffic congestion is negligible, transit passengers will not find large fleets of alternative fuel vehicles, HOV lanes or even light rail. Even at that, through some political good fortune and our own proactive internal measures, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) finds itself at the very heart of a new green movement with a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line within the nation’s Green Impact Zone to open in 2010.

In September two events over a 10-day period in Kansas City, MO earned national focus for the Green Line, the second BRT route for KCATA. A group of White House officials, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari and Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Adolfo

Carrion, visited Kansas City to launch a program called the Green Impact Zone of Missouri.

U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, (D-Missouri) conceived of this ambitious plan to bring new life to an area that has experienced severe abandonment and economic decline. His plan targets millions of dollars of American Recovery Reinvestment Act funds to weatherize houses, provide job training and improve public transit. We expect the Congressman’s effort to become a national model to mobilize community organizations, residents and businesses in environmental pursuits.

Restoration and renewal is achievable

At the kickoff, Adolfo Carrion stated that President Barrack Obama was determined to demonstrate to inner cities across the country they do not need to continue to decay. He said the president believes their restoration and renewal is achievable with the right federal help. KCATA is thrilled that our MAX on Troost BRT route will be a vital part of the Green Impact Zone.

Then on September 10, MAX on Troost broke ground. Region VII Federal Transit Administration Director Mokhtee Ahmad touted Troost MAX as the first BRT route in the nation to be funded under the Very Small Starts funding category.

The Green Line will introduce our first external green technologies that will include hybrid buses, rain gardens to capture and filter water run-off, pervious concrete at park-and-rides that reduces the amount of polluted water that runs off of the pavement surface, solar-powered lighting and solar-powered trash compactors.
Internal policies earn recognition

Minimize hazardous waste

KCATA has adopted specific internal policies and procedures to minimize hazardous waste that have earned this agency rare EPA status as a conditionally exempt small quantity generator. The amount of hazardous waste generated from a facility within a given time frame determines this status and one we have enjoyed for several years now. As a conditionally exempt small quantity generator KCATA limits its generation of hazardous waste to only 220 lbs per month.

KCATA began as a large quantity generator, reporting our waste stream in the thousands of gallons or pounds of hazardous waste, filling out extensive quarterly reports to the EPA, tracking the waste stream and manifest, and detailing how we would actually dispose of the waste. We gradually worked our way down to a small quantity generator, and ultimately to our present status.

We accomplished this through a process to eliminate our hazardous waste stream, recycling as much material as possible, changing our in-house procedures on parts cleaning equipment and changing our solvent machines over to a closed-loop system where each machine recycles its own solvent.

Avoiding expensive disposal of hazardous waste has a tremendously positive impact on the budget. Where we once paid to have our used oil removed, companies now pay us for our recycled oil and fuel filters, fluorescent bulbs from buses and buildings, vehicle batteries, antifreeze, waste oil products and solvent basins. We also worked with a laboratory to find a bus soap that emulsifies or separates the oil products from our cleaning water at a faster rate when it goes through the oil-water separator, giving it a more thorough cleansing before entering the drains.

KCATA regards these as small but important first steps into the vast green arena. We realize we still have much ahead of us in terms of the learning curve and the work yet to do. Nonetheless, our experience to this point here in Kansas City convinces me that there are green strategies to fit every size transit system’s budget and priorities.

Mark Huffer is general manager of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Kansas City, MO.