Five questions with CUTA President and CEO Marco D’Angelo

Oct. 23, 2019
D’Angelo talks about the greening of fleets, autonomous and connected vehicles, as well as other variables impacting the quickly changing face of urban mobility.

Mass Transit was given an opportunity to discuss the top issues impacting the Canadian transit landscape with the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) President and CEO Marco D’Angelo. He shares his insights on how the association continues to evolve to meet member needs, the trends and challenges CUTA members are navigating through and what impact the recent federal election could have on the industry.

CUTA’s annual conference will take place Nov. 10-13 in Calgary. This year’s theme is “Generation Innovation.” Can you share how you came to settle on this theme and what you hope to accomplish by putting the focus on it?

Marco D'Angelo: It’s a confluence of a range of events that are all taking place this November in Calgary; it's quite a unique thing. For the first time in six years, CUTA is going to be hosting a Young Leaders Summit that is bringing young people who are interested in transit as a career, from across Canada, to Calgary in advance of our annual conference. That's something we've done in the past, as well as at a more local level. It's about developing transit's next generation of thought leaders. That's one area that fed into the development of the “Generation Innovation” theme.

Our annual conference, the Canadian Transit Show, will bring in speakers from across Canada who have innovated in their systems to improve customer experience, to enhance accessibility, to use and leverage technology to improve transit services on the street and to help fight for increased modal share for transit -- there's a lot of technologies that we'll be discussing at our event. Another innovative example is the integration of the Union Internationale des Transports Publics (UITP)’s International Forum for Light Rail for North America. We're integrating that into our program for the first time. We've set, essentially, a very good scene as we're entering the 2020s as far as what transit is going to look like for the next generation, and innovation is certainly going to be at the front of that.

Even our host city, Calgary, is doing many things that are innovative and they're bringing together a lot of the best practices from other cities across North America. They're just about to launch the fourth line of their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); there is a brand new CNG garage; the 17th Avenue Southwest Transitway is being built; there is a pilot program for Lime and Bird; and, of course, the biggest project, the Green Line Light Rail Transit (LRT). [As I think] about all of the opportunities for delegates to see what's going on in our industry, whether it's the youth summit, the international rail forum or what's going on in Calgary, I think there's a lot of things where the city can take the lead. Calgary is working to reduce the commute times of citizens any way [it] can and [it is] also increasing passenger capacity at the same time through investments that had been made at the provincial level.

Looking at the broader spectrum of trends that are impacting the Canadian transit industry, what's on your radar? What are you most excited to see? What do you want to see to continue to be developed?

D'Angelo: It’s a pretty interesting time to be working in transit. Urban mobility is quickly changing with the introduction of new technology and traditional boundaries of who provides public transportation and how they do so. To keep up to date with that change, CUTA recently launched its Center of Excellence, which is an online platform that houses research, publications, interactive data visualizations and webinars that look to promote transit at the heart of integrated service mobility in Canada. The Center of Excellence outlines the top trending issues in transit and facilitates connections between CUTA and our research partners on these issues, so that we go more in depth and report back to the public and our members on those needs.

[On the topic of] electrification and the move to alternative propulsion technology, the greening of fleets is a surefire way of helping to meet both the international climate change targets of reducing transportation's share of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which figures very well amongst our recommendation to the [Canada’s four political] parties this year, but it's also of research interest to our members.

Where municipalities are finding challenges if they do go down the road of electric bus power projects or another zero-emission vehicle is ensuring the charging infrastructure is available, which is why it is important to work with a local utility right from the beginning. But CUTA is also supportive of other forms of alternative propulsion such as compressed natural gas or diesel hybrids. We're supportive of moving towards zero electric vehicles in a way that understands the limitation of the infrastructure in that area. We also need to recognize that the hydropower for the recharging is being created through a method that's not burning coal or some other unsustainable method.

Another top trend is the introduction of transportation network companies, of course. Entering the mobility mix up here in Canada, Uber and Lyft are already active in many cities, but their introduction is rarely uneventful, and there's been push back from local stakeholders. For example, the city of Vancouver is going to be a planning a phase-in with local government and transit providers. This wasn't the case elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how Vancouver over the next year prepares the transit network. They've worked with stakeholders and coming in the next year, Uber and Lyft will be permitted to enter that market, which is one of probably the last in North America that doesn't have that service.

[Regarding fare integration,] different cities have tried different models. In Vancouver, you're able to tap credit cards and so forth, right at the gate, which is another way of keeping the actual fare collection pretty simply done. In Montreal, you can purchase disposable fare media that can be preloaded on a disposable fare card, so that's something else that's very interesting. Our members are certainly looking at a different number of models because there is a lot of emerging technology in fare collection and payment. But I think [for] Canadian systems, we're still working through the details of procuring new technology so that we can take a deeper dive into how all these new potential fare solutions can assist agencies [and] either better serve the customer or help to drive ridership.

Finally, another top trend is the coming of autonomous and connected vehicles. The federal government is working at present on a framework on how to have mixed traffic, with more autonomous vehicles (AV) and connected vehicles (CV). A significant number of topics are being discussed, from safety and security to data protection and infrastructure requirements. People are promoting the need for a shared, automated and connected vehicle future and we're sharing information on how to integrate these vehicles into building our future public transit system. In fact, some of our members have been operating pilot autonomous shuttles with some good feedback so far. But there's still quite a way to go into really integrating AV and CV into the broader public transit network.

Canada held a federal election on Oct. 21. Can you discuss how the different parties’ policy platforms could impact transit?

D'Angelo: The Canadian political landscapes are a little bit different. We have four main political parties. The current government [campaigned] on the last four years of office, particularly on the C$28.7 billion (US$21.918 billion) in funding for transit infrastructure that they made available. They have promised to invest C$700 million (US$534.590 million) over four years to electrify transit and school bus fleets and have committed substantial capital funding for the long-term future.

The Conservatives were the opposition in the previous parliament. Conservatives recently announced they would bring back the public transit tax credit, which would help make public transportation more affordable for the nearly five million Canadians who use it daily. In terms of contributing to modal shift, it could also remove passenger cars from the road and in doing so would reduce emissions. The traditional third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), is looking to spend roughly C$6.5 billion (US$4.962 billion) over the next four years on transit commitments. The party would invest in scaling up zero-emission buses and trains. They would fund fare-free transit for municipalities within provinces that would enroll in that program.

The fourth party, the Greens, would create a national transportation strategy, reinvest in Canada's passenger rail network and would offer rebates for purchasing electric buses. [This is] different than a voucher [because] they would rebate it and would ban the use of the internal combustion engine by 2030.

Editor’s note: CUTA has provided more in-depth analysis of the various platforms of the four major parties, available here.

We'll have a lot more to say when the makeup of the new government is known, and we can get onto the business of advocating for those who take transit every day and for occasional riders and anyone else. Fortunately, in Canada, all party leaders seem to want to support transit, but they come at it in different ways. I think our industry and our association is very comfortable working with whatever parties make up the next government.

Can you provide an overview of CUTA’s Priority Transit initiative, what the initiative asks and what CUTA hopes to accomplish through this initiative?

D'Angelo: CUTA has launched its Priority Transit initiative and we got the ideas for what the components of that transit platform would be by asking Canadians through a nationwide poll in April. We found that Canadians strongly identify with the economic, environmental and social benefits of transit, and they particularly supported the notion that government should further invest in transit across the country.

We went back and developed the Priority Transit campaign and created a series of recommendations, which are designed to address the biggest need of Canadian transit at the present time through the lens of what voters are looking for from their next federal government.

We're asking for federal funding for transit operation, which is a first time ask, we haven't done that before. [We’re asking for] a dedicated and permanent annual fund to assist with servicing all the great capital projects that have been announced and that are being built across the country. We're also calling on the government to get transit funds out of the nation’s capital and into municipalities' faster, so the project can get built. I'm sure that's also an issue in the United States as well, in terms of getting approved funds from Washington, D.C., to the projects at the construction level. That's very important for Canadians, too. Our campaign, likewise, addresses some of the needs of CUTA's industrial business members. We're calling on the federal government to help to cover the costs of greening transit fleet. Lastly, our campaign addresses what Canadians find most disruptive to their day, and that's their commute. So, tackling congestion. We're also calling on the federal government to work with provinces to put in solutions that could tackle congestion and gridlock, where transit would be one of the key solutions to that.

Is there a rider outreach element to the Priority Transit initiative to mobilize normal, everyday people and get them involved in this initiative?

D'Angelo: We've been reaching out to Canadians since we launched the campaign back in June. We provide, through, our campaign website, evidence-based topical information on key election priorities for Canadians to access and to provide their feedback, as well. It's a one-stop shop for people who have transit as the priority voting issue for the upcoming election.

[The initiative] is not too difficult to digest. It's specifically targeted at Canadian issues -- tackling congestion and getting the economy moving -- things that matter to them. I think that's been very important. Supporters of our campaign can visit that website and promote our initiative through engaging us on social media, where we've been very active during this campaign, and then also by entering their postal code that will pull up  the candidates that are running in a particular area, and a person would be able to select a variety of messages that they'd like to send to that candidate to let them know that the intent on having transit is very important.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.