Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Texan by Nature is excited to recognize CapMetro as a 2022 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. CapMetro’s commitment to conservation, their projects, programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Transportation – Mid
Company Overview: CapMetro is Austin’s regional public transportation provider. We’ve been around since 1985 and work every day to give residents, commuters, and visitors the best possible transit options available to match their busy everyday lives. CapMetro, along with the Austin Transit Partnership and City of Austin, will implement a new era of public transportation in Central Texas with the Project Connect program. Project Connect will expand and improve our public transportation network for the entire Central Texas region, including new light rail, improvements to the commuter rail line, and new MetroRapid routes to continually enhance the system to better connect neighborhoods in and outside our great city. Project Connect is designed to improve access to essential jobs, health care and education–making our communities more livable, equitable and sustainable.
Capital Metro is committed to converting its fleet to zero emission vehicles powered by renewable Austin Energy Green Choice electricity.
What is CapMetro’s conservation and sustainability mission, and why is it important to your culture?\
Sustainability is central to the mission of CapMetro and is reflected as a core value. Sustainability is built into our commitment to the region and the community of Central Texas as a guiding principle of Project Connect. Program objectives include building an all-electric fleet, using renewables like solar and wind as major sources of energy, and using the most advanced systems to reduce water use and waste in all operations.
The CapMetro Sustainability Vision Plan outlines the path for integrating sustainability into operations and capital projects. Our Vision Plan outlines values, goals, and action areas we will pursue to do our part in protecting the planet in an equitable and resilient way.
CapMetro’s Sustainability Vision: To build and operate sustainable transit infrastructure that keeps communities connected, protects and restores our natural systems and environment, and helps grow a vibrant economy.
Sustainability is about creating vibrant, healthy, and resilient communities by considering how to improve the environment, support social equity, and grow a robust local economy.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of CapMetro’s business strategy?
As the regional transit provider for Central Texas, CapMetro is implementing the Sustainability Vision Plan to guide its operations and capital projects.
CapMetro’s mission is to connect people and communities to jobs and opportunities by providing quality transportation choices to deliver a high-quality customer experience with the help of our talented, diverse, and high-performance workforce. Optimizing our resources, instilling a culture of safety, and being a leader in sustainability assures that we provide a robust, efficient transit network in Central Texas. Implementing the Sustainability Vision Plan benefits us, our customers, and the region.
What are CapMetro’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
The CapMetro Sustainability Vision Plan details goals, sustainability strategic values, and action areas. Our long-term goals include:
Short-term objectives are embedded in CapMetro operations and projects through action areas:
Who in CapMetro is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts, and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
Sustainability and conservation are integrated into CapMetro’s DNA through the Strategic Plan, Sustainability Vision Plan, and Board-adopted Sustainability Vision Policy. Our Board and Executive Management Team lead the way through adopting and acknowledging these efforts, while every department has a role to play in making the vision a reality.
CapMetro has established a sustainability leadership committee including staff from CapMetro and Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) and a sustainability advisory group of regional peers to guide the implementation of CapMetro’s Sustainability Vision Plan and inform our sustainability goals and action areas.
CapMetro Sustainability Vision Plan and efforts are led by the Sustainability Officer and the Sustainability Leadership Committee consisting of senior staff from Capital Metro and Austin Transportation Partnership.
Students ride free on CapMetro. Now they can ride on a clean, zero mission bus featuring artwork designed by Austin-area students, with the help of Creative Action, a community arts organization.
Sustainability is as much about taking care of the people of Central Texas as it is about protecting our ecosystems. The onset of the pandemic made clear that CapMetro’s responsibility to the people of Central Texas is immense, and it also required us to serve them in new and different ways.
In March of 2020, H-E-B, Central Texas Food Bank and Capital Metro partnered to deploy Help-at-Home kits to elderly and disabled citizens across Austin. We were among the first transit agencies in the nation to use our resources (physical resources in terms of our personnel and vehicles, as well as social resources in terms of our relationships with community stakeholders) to help provide meals to the hungry in our regions. The initiative allowed access to basic food necessities without the risks of COVID.
In the year following, CapMetro devoted about 17 vans and transitioned 300-400 service hours a week to this program, transporting groceries instead of people — plus about 100 volunteer hours from staff members amid the pandemic.
Also in 2020 and in partnership with AISD, CapMetro launched a Mobile Hotspot Program to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to students living in neighborhoods with the greatest need. The goal of this program is to give students internet access to work on assignments and finish homework. Every weekday, 110 district buses provide internet access to students at multiple locations from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Additionally, CapMetro sent MetroAccess vehicles to locations from 2 to 8 p.m. to supplement the AISD service times.
CapMetro worked closely with apartment managers to ensure the placement of our vehicles that served the most residents in their own apartments. Our preparatory work with AISD included identifying individual families without internet access, followed by coordination with apartments to locate the buses. On one occasion, a resident with a disability notified CapMetro that their apartment was out of range of the hotspot. Working with apartment staff, we were able to find a new parking location that better served the resident.
MetroBike is CapMetro’s integrated program to connect our transit system with bike networks seamlessly.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does CapMetro lead and participate in?
Among CapMetro’s current initiatives, the following programs and projects are moving forward rapidly with the potential to make a large impact on the quality of life in Central Texas.
Zero Emission Battery Electric Vehicles
Green Building and Infrastructure
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will CapMetro play in that progress?
CapMetro will always be in the business of connecting people to the places they want to go in the most sustainable way possible by using public transit. To do this we will constantly adopt services and vehicles to meet those community needs—from zero emission light rail systems and buses, to our on-demand Pickup service, to an expanding fleet of e-Bike stations to make connections at the neighborhood level. The greening of our cities will be increasingly important to conserving resources and restoring nature and natural systems. Developing our systems with nature in mind, will be critical as we provide a growing palette of transportation choices.
Technology is constantly evolving and Capital Metro will remain flexible and adaptive as we evaluate new ways to reduce our impact, and use sound data to drive decisions.
“This recognition by TxN validates that we are on track and leading the industry in sustainable and operational practices that truly make a difference. TxN brings together people and organizations of all types to implement real, actionable solutions – making this recognition even more powerful. It both an honor to be selected, and a challenge to us to keep innovating.”
-Rob Borowski, CapMetro Sustainability Officer
How does CapMetro quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
Sustainability valuation is one of our strategic sustainability values and is a way to measure the benefits and costs associated with implementing policies and projects. Sustainability valuation considers the value of ecosystem services, nature, pollution, health, place, and community— benefits that are not typically incorporated in a simple financial return on investment approach.
Sustainability return on investment (SROI) and Life-cycle analysis (LCA) examples of ways that we will quantify our investments in conservation. In these efforts we will quantify both the capital costs and the operational costs of a project over its lifetime and highlight opportunities to save energy and implement longer lasting projects. We will also quantify the benefits to the environment, healthy and energy and water savings where we can as part of the equation. Our decision to pursue electric buses is based on this type of SROI calculation as the reduced energy costs and increased environmental and health benefits outweigh the increased initial capital investment.
However, service ridership will always be one of the most important ways to evaluate conservation benefits. The more people that choose transit or an e-bike, the more pollution impacts are avoided.
CapMetro will develop tools and processes for integrating sustainability valuation into our decision-making and project management. As we continue to progress toward carbon neutrality by 2040, CapMetro will develop new projects and make investments in a thoughtful, data-driven manner. While we are already making electric-ready investments in our facilities and purchasing electric fleet vehicles, maintaining our commitment to sustainability will require prioritizing our investments and fully understanding the impacts of our decisions – economically, equitably, and environmentally.
What is the one lesson that CapMetro has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
Every new project has a sustainability opportunity, and the best and most cost-effective time to have an impact is to look for these opportunities and synergies. Oddly, CapMetro’s electric bus program grew from an idea for a small pilot program of a few buses, to a full-fledged fleet conversion because of an abandoned warehouse. The story began more than 15 years ago when CapMetro acquired a property adjacent to our current bus depot for future growth. The property came with an abandoned warehouse in dire need of remediation and removal.
After a decade or more, when the agency was able to allocate the investment for the property’s renovation and the expansion of our bus yard, CapMetro realized that the best and most cost-effective time to install the infrastructure for electric charging was at that time, when the old building and foundation were removed and before the concrete for the new 200 bus parking lot was installed. The North Ops Electric Bus Depot grew out of a renovation project and into one of the largest electric-ready bus depots—even before we received our first electric bus.
The beginning or re-design of a project or process is always a good way to reimagine a path forward that includes defining sustainability goals and objectives. Stakeholder involvement (employees, community, neighbors, consultants, oversight agencies, etc.) is crucial for instituting the change that is required to make sustainability stick, and to achieve the goals.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for CapMetro?
As a public transit agency, CapMetro is integrated by design and the support of our community into the fabric of Central Texas. Transit is a critical infrastructure that serves as the only way for many people in our community to connect with the places they work, receive medical care, play, shop, worship, meet, live, and connect with nature. For those in our community that have transit options, CapMetro is a sustainable, safe, healthy, and reliable way to get through our City with increasing options such as our on-demand Pickup service and MetroBike. Central Texas is CapMetro’s home because we are supported by the people and the institutions here. It is our responsibility to operate our transit as sustainably as possible and help this community continue to grow into a vibrant and inclusive region.
Learn more about CapMetro’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
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H-E-B, Central Texas Food Bank and Capital Metro partnered to deploy Help-at-Home kits to elderly and disabled citizens across Austin. CapMetro used its resources to help provide meals to the hungry in our regions. The initiative allowed access to basic food necessities without the risks of COVID.
CapMetro’s renewable energy purchased totaled around 8.7 million kilowatt hours of energy.
CapMetro will increase to 200 electric buses by 2026 to reduce its overall fleet greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, 100% of CapMetro’s electricity from Austin Energy is renewable (wind and solar) Green Choice electricity.
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