Metro blazes new trails with green efforts

Many large corporations, organizations and small businesses in and around Cincinnati are visibly getting on the "green" bandwagon. They’re recycling. They’re encouraging carpooling and cycling to work. They’re installing solar panels on their buildings. But what you may not see, or know, is that Metro has been adding environmentally friendly innovations for years.
Metro’s green efforts started in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when they began experimenting with biodiesel bus fuel. Now, Metro’s long-time partnership with the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environmental Quality is helping spread the organization’s green message to the public.
When the City issued the Green Cincinnati Plan, it established goals to increase transit use and non-vehicular transit in the Tri-State region. Part of the Plan was to reduce gasoline and diesel use by 20 percent by 2020.
In line with that goal, Metro added 45 new mini-hybrid buses to the 27 hybrid buses in its 346-vehicle fleet in 2012. The mini-hybrids use thermal cooling technology to provide improved fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Metro plans to add 33 more mini-hybrids in 2013, says Jill Dunne, Metro's public affairs manager.
“Here at Metro, we’re trying to focus on public transportation as a greener mode of transportation than individuals having cars,” Dunne says.
Every day, 70,000 Cincinnatians ride Metro to help reduce carbon emissions by more than 4,800 pounds per year. “By filling a bus with people, you take 60 cars off the road,” she says. “Public transit really does make a difference.”
Metro does other green projects during the year, but on a smaller scale. Behind the scenes, Metro washes its buses with rainwater, recycles waste oil at its garages and recycles paper at its office.

Metro will also be hosting a webinar in the near future. It will teach the basics of bus riding to the Green Business Council of Cincinnati—the plan is to challenge local businesses to think about what they can do on their level, says Kim Lahman, Metro’s ridership development manager.
“We’re challenging local businesses to post bus routes on their websites and to work with Metro on free bus pass days,” Lahman says. “We want businesses to look at the bigger picture of how to stay out of cars, and what they as a business can do to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint.”
The City recently started to promote alternative ways of commuting for its employees. On Bus to Work Day, every City employee received a Metro bus pass. Of the 5,000 people who were given a free pass that day, about 1,000 used the pass, says Larry Falkin, executive director of OEQ.
“It got quite a few people to try Metro because a lot of people don’t ride transit at all,” Falkin says. “Once they ride it for the first time and figure out how things work, they see that it’s not so bad.”
City employees can now purchase bus passes through payroll deduction at City Hall, an option which has been very well received, Lahman says. By making it easier for employees to buy bus passes, they’ve increased ridership.  
In October, Metro and OEQ partnered with the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District to create the Recycle and Ride program. The program rewarded people with free Metro passes when they actively recycled. A survey sent out at the beginning of the year showed that 66 percent of those surveyed increased their recycling habits or behaviors and 77 percent increased their bus riding habits.
“Those results are pretty impressive for a six-month promotion, and we have no plans to stop that anytime soon,” Lahman says.
Metro recently overhauled its website to be more user-friendly. Visitors to the site can use a carbon calculator to see how much they can improve the environment by riding Metro, plus find the best routes to get them to school, work, the grocery store or their favorite restaurants.  
Social media has also helped communicate Metro’s green efforts and route changes. “It’s a great way to connect with riders,” Dunne says. “We want to hear from our riders, and we love to communicate with them.”
Overall, ridership is up four percent from last year. Ridership from local colleges is up 20 percent, which is a sign that younger riders are more environmentally aware, Dunne says.
Metro is working with the city’s parks to put together a user-friendly map for people who want to enjoy the outdoors and take the bus to the parks. Hopes are to add that information to the site by June 1.
Last year, the Greater Cincinnati Earth Coalition selected Metro to receive the Cincinnati Earth Day Celebration’s 2012 Environmental Award. Metro was chosen for the award based on its environmentally-friendly business partners and its use of hybrid buses.
“When we talk about sustainability, we’re really talking about building a city that will be successful in the long haul because it offers quality of life, amenities and economic opportunities,” Falkin says. “As we look into the future, we’ll be competing with other regions and countries as we’re looking at new ways to ‘go green.’ We know we’re going to be successful by getting as much mileage as possible out of our resources, and getting the best quality of life out of the smallest amount of resources possible.”

Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.  
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