MTA’s Call to Climate Action or Just Another Press Release?

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The Municipal Transportation Agency’s "Climate Action Plan," a 96-page draft [PDF] released Thursday, strikes some hopeful notes but will it produce results? It calls for a reduction of the agency’s overall carbon footprint to meet the city’s goal of reducing carbon 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Muni would like to achieve zero emissions by 2020 and thinks it can do it but so far there are no budget or implementation timetables.

In summary, while the SFMTA’s internal footprint is being successfully addressed through ever-cleaner transit vehicles, increased energy efficiency and better waste reduction, the direct measure of the SFMTA’s contribution to reducing the much larger scope of transportation sector emissions will primarily be found in increased transit ridership, increased use of plug-in passenger vehicles, improved parking management, expanded vehicle technology programs, increased provision of bicycle facilities, promotion of walking and increased transit oriented development.

The initial reaction from some Livable Streets advocates was that it seems like another press release and not a living document.

"I hope this isn’t another plan that gathers dust on shelves and results in no actual changes.  I find it hard to believe that there aren’t improvements or changes that could happen now without waiting for yet another study," said Livable City Board President Cheryl Brinkman.

The "Climate Action Plan" was mandated by Proposition A, a Muni reform measure passed by voters in November 2007. The Board of Supervisors has also asked all city departments to produce climate action plans by the end of this month.

"The requirement for a climate action plan was put in there to make the connection to the voters between the more substantive changes in the charter that Prop A had, like a lot more money for the MTA, more control over Muni and global warming," said Dave Synder, the transportation policy director at SPUR

MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford, in an interview at City Hall yesterday, stressed the deep financial challenges that lie ahead in trying to implement the climate action plan because of the state budget crisis, but said he was proud the Muni fleet "is one of the cleanest fleets in the country."

The state funding is to a large degree a lot of our bread and butter in terms of funding. It’s something that we’ve consistently depended on. What it’s going to force us to do once again is to take a look at how we can become more efficient inside the organization and then also look at opportunities to increase some of our revenues in terms of some of our advertising contracts, transit-oriented development on properties that we own.

Considering the impending cuts that
will tear into MTA’s budget it’s easy to be skeptical of yet another
plan that has no secure funding. And how will it ultimately compare to climate action plans in other big cities?

  • Yeah, this looks more like a vague wishlist than a plan. I couldn’t find a single date or benchmark in the entire thing. Hope we didn’t spend too much money on this.

  • What I want to know is whose climate? It gets me so angry when I see those “Zero Emissions Vehicle” signs on the side of Muni buses. The buses may not put out any smog here, but they run off of electricity which does produce greenhouse gases when it’s generated at some far off power plant in the central valley… but who cares about those people and the air pollution they breathe as long as we can feel all high and mighty here in San Francisco. They really should call electric vehicles “Coal vehicles” since that’s what’s burned (not so cleanly) to generate most of the electricity we get here.

  • anonymouse

    Muni gets a lot of its power from the city-owned Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric dam. Which doesn’t emit any greenhouses gases or use any coal. Do your homework before posting your rants.

  • Even if they MUNI bus magically runs on only the electrons produced by the hydroelectric dam, the fact that MUNI is using them instead of letting SF sell them to someone who will otherwise build a coal-fired plant, means that the buses are not “zero-emission” per se. There is a lot of value in having electric vehicles anyway, because it’s more likely we can produce lower overall pollution from electric because renewable sources like solar don’t turn into diesel.

  • Dave Snyder

    The MTA’s impact on the climate has almost nothing to do with the type of energy that runs the buses. Those vehicles account for less than one percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the transportation sector.

    The MTA’s impact on the climate has to do for the most part with its ability to reduce vehicle miles traveled. To the agency’s credit, the report acknowledges this:

    “… the direct measure of the SFMTA’s contribution to reducing … transportation sector emissions will primarily be found in increased transit ridership, increased use of plug-in passenger vehicles, improved parking management, expanded vehicle technology programs, increased provision of bicycle facilities, promotion of walking and increased transit oriented development.”

    To the agency’s shame, they do not reveal specific plans to accomplish these goals. There are no mode share targets, for example. Furthermore, the budget section shows the agency is clueless about bicycling. They lump bicycling and walking improvements together (why?!) and figure they will have a “minimal cost.” In fact, they have no idea how much a complete bicycle network will cost because they have never planned one. The current plan (under environmental review) did not propose a complete network, only a (big) set of incremental improvements to the current network. An SFBC analysis from five years ago estimated the complete network to cost close to $100 million.

    All this said, I know the executives and planners over there are aware of the deficiencies and working to fill in these gaps, a process that will provide more information and therefore more realistic budgetary numbers for the next climate action plan.