News | METRANS Researcher Develops a Strategic Sustainability Plan for Long Beach Transit

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In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act and followed with the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act in 2008, solidifying California’s commitment to massively reduce the state’s climate impact. As the second-largest city in Los Angeles County and one with a major transit agency, the City of Long Beach has made major strides in transitioning its transit agency’s fuel sources to sustainable and renewable energy. Long Beach Transit (LBT) provides fixed-route, paratransit, and water taxi services in a service area of over 100 square miles with two major operating facilities in the City of Long Beach. With a fleet currently 89% dependent on alternative fuel, LBT plans to completely transition to alternative fuel sometime this year. Recently, the transit agency developed a strategic plan designed to prioritize safety, financial accountability, and community. In support of LBT’s strategic plan and sustainability protocols, Dr. Hilda Blanco, METRANS researcher and Interim Director of USC’s Center for Sustainable Cities, developed the Long Beach Transit Strategic Sustainability Plan, which delineates LBT’s sustainability objectives drawing upon interviews with agency members and transit sustainability protocols from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  


Using the tool CalEnviroScreen, Dr. Blanco noted that Long Beach contains some of the most environmentally burdened census tracts in the state. CalEnviroScreen identifies communities in the state with “significant pollution burdens and vulnerabilities.” This raises questions relating to environmental justice, as the majority of LBT’s service area operates in these disadvantaged communities. To address the sustainable vulnerability issues within the city through transit, Blanco and her team interviewed LBT’s Executive Leadership team, managers, and Board members. Each interviewee was asked his or her opinion on what important aspects of sustainability were the most difficult challenges for LBT to overcome and what were the easiest and most important aspects of sustainability upon which LBT could improve.  


When addressing the most important aspects of sustainability for the agency, LBT management and Board members identified environmental aspects as an important focal point, with more than a third of interviewees directing attention to LBT’s plan to increase the number of battery-electric buses (BEBs). Interviewees noted that the greatest economic and social challenges LBT faces include a decline in ridership, funding issues, changes in technology, and the need to build a culture of sustainability. To combat low ridership, some interviewees suggested special outreach toward senior and student groups to increase ridership, improve customer experience on buses, and make transit more attractive to young professionals.  


The aspects of sustainability that were deemed the easiest for the agency to address were increasing the use of more sustainable technologies, with the largest group of managers and Board members pointing to the utilization of zero-emission buses and solar installations on facilities. Some interviewees responded that developing a sustainability plan along with improving customer experience and creating a closer working relationship with the City of Long Beach were also easy implementations. Other important aspects that were highlighted included ensuring workforce and financial sustainability, addressing challenges with ride-hailing companies, and constructing a sustainability plan for LBT.  


While creating the strategic sustainability plan, guidelines from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and its Sustainability Commitment Program were used to identify indicators of sustainability and examine how LBT measures in each one. APTA’s Sustainability Commitment Program is a voluntary transit program for agencies desiring to commit to achieving greater sustainability in three major aspects: environmental, social, and economic. Environmental indicators include water usage, criteria air pollutant emissions, GHG emissions and savings, energy use and recycling and waste. Along with comparing the agency’s measures to the indicators, the strategy plan also highlights the sustainable practices already used by LBT and establishes goals for the agency over a 10-year time frame. The plan highlights LBT’s best practices, such as dedicated staff, community-specific outreach, and partnerships and collaborations, and lists LBT’s goals for specific sustainability aspects. The goals focus on community building and engagement, professional workforce, fiscal responsibility, sustainable investment and procurement, mobility and accessibility, and safety and emergency. Such goals include: 


  • Providing training on diversity, inclusion, and cultural awareness for employees that participate in customer engagement; 
  • Hiring a Staff Analyst in Human Resources to determine gaps in employee hiring and retention process and establishing an apprenticeship program to help support professional development for employees; 
  • Defining and implementing a capital improvement plan to prioritize sustainability initiatives; 
  • Beginning to implement procurement practices to improve the quality of goods/services purchased; and 
  • Developing a communication plan that expresses the combined cost of housing and transit, comparing a range of housing and transit costs in typical households to the same housing costs and vehicle ownership and use. 


Through the strategic plan, Dr. Blanco assisted LBT and the City of Long Beach in taking further steps toward a brighter, more sustainable future. The goals listed in the plan, as well as the use of APTA’s Sustainability Commitment Program guidelines, will allow the transit agency to organize its sustainability goals for the next ten years and continue improving the health of the city.