‘Build it and they will come’: CUTA Conference 2018

Canadian transit systems bucked a North American trend and reported a 1.5% increase in national ridership in 2017, the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) announced prior to the launch of its annual conference and transit show.

Transit systems reporting ridership growth commonly identified an increase in service levels as a key enabler of their ridership growth. Metrolinx has increased GO Transit service by 25% over the past year and has experienced a 3% increase in ridership as a result.

The increase in ridership has also been as a result of ensuring “customers are the focus of everything we do,” said Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster during a packed panel discussion at the conference being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Center.

“Figure out your markets—who actually takes transit—and what is important to them,” said Verster, “so you can sell transit to your market. Remove barriers between systems. Stimulate off peak travel.”

It is crucially important, however that safety not be lost as transit service is expanded, he emphasized.

“Link safety charters to customer charters and ensure you have created a safety culture within your organization.”

Jim McDonald from Saskatoon Transit also spoke on the panel, about the need to create a transit system that truly addresses the needs of customers by asking what they need and “truly listening” to what they have to say.

As part of their orientation, customer service staff in Saskatoon must take “empathy training.”

“Staff must travel the system in a wheelchair, then with vision limiting glasses, a stroller, etc.,” McDonald said, “to ensure they experience the system from customers’ point of view.”

“Small details can make a huge difference,” Verster agreed, “and are crucially important to get people to use transit and build your ridership.”

The CUTA conference, which is co-hosted this year by the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx, continues throughout the week. It is one of the largest transit industry conferences in North America, and attracts hundreds of sector leaders and innovators from across North America and beyond.

The panel discussion followed the opening Leadership Breakfast with greetings from Phil Verster, Metrolinx Chair Don Wright, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, Mayor John Tory, TTC CEO Rick Leary and TTC Chair Josh Colle.

Written by Anne Marie Aikins, Senior Manager of Media Relations at Metrolinx.