Pierce Transit: The Sustainable Way to Get around Pierce County

pierce transit
In addition to its Care-A-Van program, Pierce Transit offers countless other ways for local commuters to get around town. Visit piercetransit.org to learn more. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

Sustainability is a subject that inspires environmentalists, drives political campaigns, and is even changing the way we live our day-to-day lives. As sustainability continues to become an increasingly important topic to the average American, businesses, organizations and individuals alike are looking at how they can reduce their own carbon footprints.

Since the mid-1980s, Pierce Transit has been a pioneer on the matter, taking a variety of measures to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. From the public transit organization’s bus wash that uses reclaimed water to its fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, Pierce Transit is constantly looking at new ways to become greener as it grows into the future.

Pierce Transit
Eighty-percent of Pierce Transit’s bus fleet utilizes sustainable CNG fuel. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

In 2008, Pierce Transit made its efforts in sustainability official by putting an executive order in motion that encouraged green technologies and strategies throughout the organization. Pierce Transit Community Development Administrator, Tina Lee, says this executive order continues to serve as the guiding principle that inspires Pierce Transit’s employees to be more environmentally friendly.

More recently, however, Pierce Transit has furthered this commitment to sustainability by signing the American Public Transportation Association’s Sustainability Commitment. Lee says by signing this pledge, Pierce Transit has committed to continue improving sustainability throughout the organization.

Today, 80 percent of Pierce Transit’s fleet is powered by CNG fuel.

“There’s a huge savings there,” Lee explains. “Where we would have spent two to four dollars per gallon for diesel, we only pay about fifty cents for CNG. We also get federal tax credits for using CNG.”

The money Pierce Transit saves by using more efficient, environmentally-friendly forms of fuel, translates to more service for Pierce Transit customers.

But CNG-powered buses aren’t the only environmentally-friendly vehicles Pierce Transit is using. Fifteen percent of Pierce Transit’s fleet is powered by diesel-electric hybrid buses — and that percent is expected to increase in the years ahead.

A primarily-CNG fueled bus fleet isn't the only way Pierce Transit is reducing its carbon footprint. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.
A primarily-CNG fueled bus fleet isn’t the only way Pierce Transit is reducing its carbon footprint. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

“We applied for a grant to bring the first all-electric buses to Pierce Transit,” Lee says, enthusiastically. “We don’t have any of those yet, but they’re the cleanest we can get.”

Lee says that while it’s the shiny, new environmentally-friendly buses that people notice, there are lots of small things the public transit organization does behind the scenes that also make a big impact.

“It’s just the day to day work that we do to be better for the environment,” Lee says. “We have a bus wash system that uses reclaimed water; we purchase recycled toner, paper and cleaning products; all of our employees receive bus passes and are encouraged to use alternative forms of transportation; and we did simple things like LED upgrades, putting timers on lights and recycling batteries and oil — we do a lot of things that are just good business.”

And those things add up. Not just for the environment, but for Pierce Transit customers as well.

“When we realize the financial savings from these things, they result in more services for our customers,” Lee explains. “Everything we do comes back to being able to provide more service.”

downtown tacoma
Sustainability isn’t just good for the environment — it’s good for the economy, too. The monetary incentives and kickbacks Pierce Transit receives for being more green are savings that are passed on to the consumer. Photo courtesy: Pierce Transit.

As Tacoma and Pierce County continue to grow, Pierce Transit is looking to expand its service routes, providing additional service and implementing new, innovative solutions such as Bus Rapid Transit that can move people quickly and efficiently. This is all part of the public transit organization’s Long Range Plan, which Pierce Transit has developed through a wide-ranging public outreach plan.

Over the years, Pierce Transit has reduced its greenhouse emissions, increased recycling, and improved sustainability overall. Lee says moving forward, Pierce Transit is going to implement better systems for tracking the results of its efforts, fine-tuning its approach so that it can identify other areas of improvement and continue setting and meeting goals.

“We are actively trying to do the right thing in the community,” Lee says. “We work for the community. The community is our boss. We want to show them that we’re doing a good job.”

For more information about Pierce Transit and what it’s doing to be more sustainable in the 21st century, visit Pierce Transit online. Want to reduce your own carbon footprint? Pick up an Orca Smart Card and leave your car at home.



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