Innovation Re-envisioned at CUTA Forum 2017

If you attended CUTA Forum 2017: Route to Innovation, you got a glimpse of the future with keynote speaker and Futurist, Sanjay Khanna but you also heard about squirrels. Patrick Leclerc, President and CEO of CUTA introduced the theme of this year’s Forum with an analogy from a Pixar movie. The squirrels in this analogy represent momentary distractions – hyped-up ideas and futuristic technology that tend to dominate discussions.



Though transportation network companies (TNCs) and autonomous vehicles are very relevant to the public transit industry, it is important that these innovations are not being discussed in a silo. It is crucial that these discussions are framed with a goal of integrated mobility, the idea of reducing cars on the roads and providing first-mile, last-mile solutions, keeping public transit at the heart of the conversation. Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes and the innovations in our systems do not all have to be flashy or sexy.

There are some incredibly innovative concepts that exist today, such as Transit-Oriented Development, Mobility Pricing and Transportation Demand Management – if only we could implement them. Innovation can mean revolutionizing your procurement policy, updating IT systems and optimizing schedules. And, ultimately in innovating we should never lose sight of what is most important, the customer. 

CUTA was honoured to partner with York Region Transit (YRT) to host this Forum for the very reason that YRT puts their travellers at the centre. Every innovation at YRT is made with the customer in mind. From the YRT/Viva app that provides real-time service information and the latest in mobile fare payment options to its rapidways (dedicated lanes in the centre of the road for Viva buses), and electronic variable message signs that display real-time bus arrival information. Everything is designed to enhance the customer experience and promote a transit culture in York Region. This culture was very evident at the Forum where the YRT team, visible in beautiful blue, answered any questions from CUTA’s delegates and ensured they were able to move with ease throughout the Forum from location to location. YRT also hosted a Welcome Reception for CUTA’s delegates in its Silver Leeds Certified garage facility where the Forum was kicked off in style with the Latin Jazz Ensemble Band and inspiring words from YRT General Manager, Ann-Marie Carroll.

“We have all been given big mandates and projects to deliver this year, but we’ve really pulled together as a team. We’ve worked our way through some very trying moments to get the job done. It’s a very unique, dynamic and incredible team. It is very unusual for this number of transit agencies to come together and be able to deliver the number of things that we’re delivering today. “

- Ann-Marie Carroll

Innovation was evident throughout the educational sessions and workshops. Delegates experienced the transformation of accessible transit by delivering a blended conventional and accessible services to allow systems to reach more customers, more efficiently. “Cracking the Culture Nut” demonstrated the need for a shift in the corporate culture and strategies were shared to attract and retain youth and emerging leaders in the transit industry.

A workshop on CUTA’s Integrated Mobility Toolbox allowed delegates to participate in hands-on activities to develop practical solutions for a variety of different scenarios. Sessions on asset management programs and the age of digital technology showed systems for mapping assets and vehicle monitoring tools to help catch issues earlier. “Performance Management of Contracted Services” featured YRT’s revolutionary contract management process and heard from the contractor’s point of view on how to build successful partnerships. A panel discussion featuring women in transit operations showcased the career paths of four women and how they overcame challenges to rise to the top of their profession. Many other topics that the transit industry’s knowledgeable speakers presented included: operational performance management, innovations in city building, artificial intelligence and travel demand to name a few. 

CUTA’s National and Regional Committees met at the Forum and discussed pertinent issues in the transit industry including ridership trends, mobility pricing, engaging youth and emerging leaders, customer service and more.

This year, the CUTA Forum featured a triple Showcase combo that highlighted different facets of the CUTA membership in dedicated networking an exhibition spaces. On Monday, November 6th, the Showcase Theatre took place in a large room, equipped with sofa seating, standing room, and a dazzling food buffet.

The Showcase Theatre hosted four medium-length showcases of innovation by leading transit contributors. Q’Straint presented on the Quantum, the industry’s first fully automatic rear-facing wheelchair securement station, combining transportation insight, intelligent technology, and high-quality construction to better assist passengers with accessibility needs. Atlas Copco Tools with Assembly Systems Canada presented on Industry 4.0, an innovation in accurate wheel assembly. DriveABLE presented their methods to support transit fleets with predictive cognitive tools to aid in driver risk management, and DiCAN presented on its Mobileye Shield+ system, an advanced collision avoidance system for buses, trucks and commercial vehicles. Between sessions, AECOM sponsored a Showcase Connect Networking event, and delegates were able to move freely between meeting rooms and into the Showcase Gallery.

More than 45 CUTA members set up booth coupled with banners, slideshows and seating to engage with the CUTA membership as traffic moved along the Showcase Gallery. Delegates could also take a shuttle on the regular between Sunday’s Welcome reception until Monday evening to the YRT facility a few minutes north of the Sheraton hotel where the Showcase Garage was housed. The Garage included several buses on display from the Canadian Transit Heritage Foundation, City View and Grande West Transportation, New Flyer, Nova Bus, and Prevost, as well as innovative bus technology from Clever Devices.

The Monday of the CUTA forum also saw three technical tours take place at 1:00PM sponsored by ENGIE Services and INIT USA. The first technical tour explored the Operations, Maintenance and Storage Facility of the YRT’s 481,679 square foot LEED Silver Certified building, dedicated to the Viva fleet.

The second technical tour visited the first rapidway projects that have created seamless connection along Highway 7 East in Richmond Hill and Markham, and on Davis Drive in Newmarket. Technical Tour 3 was on the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, which is proposed to open in December of 2017. The tour consisted of a visit to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) Station, one of six new stations on the TTC’s Toronto-York Spadina subway extension. The tour also visited the adjacent bus terminal to the VMC station.

The highly-anticipated Individual Leadership CUTA Awards hosted by Chris Prentice and Cathy Benjamin-Ostrander saw a very big turnout on Tuesday morning. Set against a colorful neon backdrop, transit over-achievers received their awards in the categories of Remarkable Service, Heroism, and Excellence. The ceremony concluded with applause in recognition of these individuals’ valuable contributions to transit services. You can find more information on the winners in this year’s Individual Leadership Awards press release.

Indeed, the CUTA Forum 2017: Route to Innovation did not shy away from its commitment to innovation. With full support from the dynamic team at York Region Transit, CUTA was able to put together a different and unique event for its members that puts into light the issues we are faced with as an industry, and what each of us has to offer in terms of technology, research, development, and methodology in order to build sustainable communities with better systems of urban mobility. Thank you for attending, and we look forward to sharing with you details on our next event: The CUTA Annual Conference and Tradeshow 2018 in Toronto, in partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx!

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