2021 40 Under 40: Chris MacIsaac

Nov. 23, 2021
Chris MacIsaac, Team Leader, Transit, City of Airdrie
  • One word to describe yourself: Innovator
  • Alma Mater: Dalhousie University, BComm
  • Fun fact about yourself: Owned and operated an ice-cream stand in rural Nova Scotia starting at the age of 12 to 19.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Napapiiri I, Rovaniemi, Finland. The only bus stop I have traveled on to the Arctic Circle!
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Liechtenstein Bus between Feldrich, Austria; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; and Buchs, Switzerland (2 countries, 1 principality so cool).

City of Airdrie, Alberta, Team Leader of Transit Chris MacIsaac is described as a creative, outside-the-box thinker who shares his technical skills and strategies with his entire transit team while constantly providing teaching moments.

MacIsaac joined the city’s transit department in 2010. Under his leadership, the department has grown from a one-person, five-bus fleet with no vision or direction to a four-person team with a fleet of 21 buses that includes paratransit vans and bus rapid transit articulated vehicles.

He opened the city’s very first purpose-built transit hub in 2015 for all the transit routes in the city. In 2019, he had a secondment with the town of Okotoks, Alberta, to assist them with the implementation of public transit in their community.

Airdrie opened its first purpose-built transit facility in 2020 thanks to MacIsaac’s involvement and direction. This state-of-the-art, centralized facility includes a maintenance facility, service lanes to accommodate servicing and washing of buses, administration offices, storage space for the current bus fleet along with additional room for the city’s continued and sustained transit growth. MacIsaac has managed to bring together several services under one roof to become the heart of the city’s operations.

His focus has turned toward Airdrie’s recovery and post-pandemic aspect of transit planning. MacIsaac started a Communication Services Recovery Team within the municipality, which is working to understand how this pandemic has impacted the city’s customers. The team is attempting to build trust and creditability in public services and institutions to rebuild businesses. MacIsaac brought forward the idea for this group to see how the services can be leveraged in a way that supports one another and allows all business units to come up with a plan to come out of this pandemic prepared, strong and united.

MacIsaac is a member of the Board of the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA). He was elected as the treasury/secretary on the CUTA Prairie Provinces and Territories Chapter Executive Committee and assumed the role of chair in 2021. He actively works with numerous committees from across Canada to provide valuable information for advocacy, communications and technical services.

While the world works on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, MacIsaac is busy working with his team to determine how Airdrie Transit can provide residents with safe, reliable and multiple mobility options around the city and the region.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

Early in my transit career, I had an opportunity to lead a high-publicity and misunderstood project. That project was character building and entrenched my deep passion and commitment to public service. I knew from that moment that I was in a challenging and exciting industry full of passion and emotions.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The impact our industry makes on the lives of others. Urban mobility connects people to what is important to them in their communities. Our customers put their trust in us to provide that basic need in a safe and convenient manner. This is why I love what I do. We have such a meaningful connection to our customers and our communities.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Slowing down. I am an innovator and creator which can conflict with strategy and process. Often, I need to purposely slow my approach to be more methodological. My innovation is fueled by my passion to improve how we serve our current customers and how we can attract new customers tomorrow.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

Creating and implementing a vision for transit in the community. Transit has evolved greatly within our community over the past decade from an afterthought to a critical service. As our services have changed, so too has our team leading this transformation . I am a proud leader of a team that exemplifies respect, collaboration and innovation while implementing a sustainable transit program in our community.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

In the words of Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental,” (and yes this was conveniently borrowed from Ted Lasso). If we ask the right questions, we will become more enlightened and build a culture and practice of understanding and appreciation.