Nico Malfara, PE, HDR Transit Planning Section Lead, Vancouver, talked with METRO about public transit, equity, workforce development, and more.
Equity, Workforce Development, and More
Dig into this Q&A to learn more about consultants helping agencies with inclusion and ways to improve workforce development.
METRO: How are consultants helping transit agencies, if at all, with the idea of transit equity and inclusion?
Malfara: At its core, providing public transit is a form of equity. Transit provides mobility for those who cannot, should not, or choose not to drive.
However, today we're rethinking conventional planning principles so that transit better serves marginalized communities. We often plan for the peak period, or the peak hour, which frequently means catering to traditional office commuters. But those may not be the people in most need of transit.
During the pandemic, we saw that many commuters quickly shifted to work from home while essential workers, who often work off-peak shifts, still needed to get to work. We are helping agencies adjust priorities to meet the needs of those who need transit the most.
One tangible way we’ve been incorporating equity in projects is by creating key performance measures for equity during planning. As part of a public and stakeholder engagement process, we seek to understand the needs of a community and use that to inform the metrics.
If a community identifies station distance as a priority, for example, our analysis includes how many people are within walking distance of proposed stations.
These calculations may be used by an agency when evaluating multiple different alignments for a new line. So, in addition to traditional factors of technical feasibility, cost, and environmental impact, we add a lens of equity.
METRO: What steps has HDR taken to increase its own workforce development?
Malfara: What I love about HDR’s efforts is that we support employees in multiple ways from all levels of our organization. We give them resources like tailored online leadership training courses and bi-annual company conferences that they can use on their own to further their careers.
Throughout HDR, many folks are involved with professional associations that help spread best practices and industry knowledge, from new staff to senior leadership.
I’ve heard from newer staff that they really appreciate HDR’s stipend program that helps employees attend and present at industry conferences and create articles and papers. Here in Canada we also have people whose primary focus is on staff engagement and career growth of employees within specific fields.
METRO: What will some keys be to transit being able to bring back ridership post-pandemic?
Malfara: Bringing back ridership post-pandemic will take a multi-faceted approach; however, the positive news is we are seeing ridership rebound in many cities across North America especially where service levels have been brought back to pre-pandemic levels.
What is going to keep people on public transit is reminding them of why transit is important and telling those stories. Every day across North America, millions of people seamlessly get to work or other destinations safely and on time.
That’s an amazing achievement that shouldn’t be forgotten and should be promoted to keep funding flowing and avoid the service cuts that will only erode ridership further.
Secondly, we need to refocus our efforts not just on those traditional peak hours, but make sure that we're providing good service throughout the day so that people who want to get groceries in the middle of the day or go do things later in the evening have reliable transit service. Improving speed and reliability will also be key.
Lastly, a customer-focused experience will be key. Technology offers one way to achieve this, such as by offering riders real-time information on their phones about when buses or trains are arriving. Adding conveniences like Wi-Fi can make trips more enjoyable and comfortable.
Transit agencies should also recognize they are one mobility option among many for customers. Expanding their mandates to make mobility choices as seamless as possible will enhance the experience as well as promote transit.
Some countries and cities already provide options that allow users to transfer from transit to active transportation and shared mobility options for one monthly fee. That sort of flexibility will be key as options increase and customers seek to map their own journeys.