Call it “two-way Thursday.” On May 24 in downtown Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of the public sector was substantially increasing fares for bus and rail riders while a few miles away at Universal Studios, General Electric and 10 partners were showcasing significant environmental gains in the private sector.
The battle over MTA’s mass transit fare increases tended to center on socio-economic issues, and perhaps rightly so as the impact of the new rates will be borne disproportionately by low-income commuters of color. Perhaps equally important but less prominent in the debate is the potential environmental impact of increased fares. Bus and rail common carriers have far greater fossil fuel efficiency (passenger miles per gallon) than private vehicles, and anything our local government can do to encourage use of mass transit may decrease both congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, at Universal Studios, GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt was hosting a daylong media event to showcase progress-to-date in GE’s two-year program dubbed “Ecomagination.” The parade was impressive. In conjunction with Union Pacific, what is billed as the world’s first hybrid locomotive was unveiled (off site at Union Station), which may result in as much as a 10 percent reduction in diesel fuel consumption. Union Pacific is one of the largest consumers of diesel in the world.
David Nahai, President of the Board of LA DWP, spoke about his agency’s commitment to substantially shift from fossil fuel to renewable energy resources with special focus upon wind power provided by private sector partners. Other presentations centered on clean water/desalinization (including a new plant under construction in Carlsbad that will serve 300,000 homes), hydrogen energy, the growing industry of “carbon credits” earned by reductions in methane emissions, new battery technology enabling even more efficient hybrid cars and “green” residential and commercial construction.
Even a vice president of Wal-Mart, Charles Zimmerman, showed up to discuss the impending retrofit of 500 stores with light emitting diode (LED) lighted refrigeration units which can cut electricity consumption by two percent. Wal-Mart, Zimmerman noted, is America’s largest single private user of electricity, and with rising energy prices the discount retailer is determined to cut consumption through a variety of innovations. Zimmerman also noted that every energy savings investment Wal-Mart has made to date has a two-year or sooner payback. His point – indeed the single strongest impression advanced by speakers all day long – is that good environmental policy can also be good business.
Perhaps someone should tell the MTA.