Summit Dispatches, Day 1: Inspiring Photos, Gender Inequality, and the New Security Paradigm
Welcome aboard, next stop: Montréal. For the next three days, I’ll be reporting from the UITP Global Public Transport Summit. Here you’ll find behind-the-scenes notes from the world’s largest public transport event. Over the course of the Summit I’ll be covering presentations from industry pioneers, testing some of the newest technology of the sector, and I might even get to ride in an autonomous vehicle. Suffice to say that my days will be very full, so I’m glad you’re along for the ride…
8:30–9:30, Breakfast session
To take full advantage of the Summit, I’m attending the very first session of the day (the fact that it happens to include breakfast helps get me out of bed in the morning). What first strikes me upon entering Montréal’s Palais des Congrès is the sheer scale of the venue – high ceilings with hanging sculptures, seven levels of rooms, and nearly 20,000m² of exhibition space. The floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the colourful arches of Chinatown, and beyond that, the hulking steel mass of the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
I’m not the only one enticed by breakfast and a selection of exciting speakers; the room is full to capacity, eagerly awaiting the first session of the Summit. First to the podium is the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities in Canada. He delivered a passionate speech, commenting on the role that public transport plays in shaping a city.
Mr Sohi shared his own inspiring story of arriving in Canada as an immigrant from India, and rising through the ranks of the transport sector: from bus driver, to local transport authority, to his current highly-esteemed position in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first cabinet.
Mr Sohi detailed Canada’s long-term investment plan, including a pledge to invest more than $180m over the next decade to sustainable transport; funding for 400,000 transport projects across the country; and $300m of funding for a new Smart Cities initiative, giving cities the opportunity to innovate, take risks and implement forward-thinking ideas – with a focus on electric buses and autonomous vehicles.
Next up, the Winner’s Ceremony of the UITP Photo Contest. The contest aimed to capture innovation in public transport, and was open to anyone involved in the sector. Receiving 365 submissions from all over the world, the jury must have had a hard time selecting the top three photographs. Third place was awarded to Alex de Jong, from VDL Bus Coach, with his photograph of a series of ‘fast-charging’ stations, presenting an ambitious vision of the future: zero emission, electric transport, supported by sustainable infrastructure. Taïb Chabbi from STIB (Belgium) was presented with second place, for his photograph of the multimodal Schuman station in Brussels.
First place went to Laura Mareovich, from PostBus, for her photo of the world’s first autonomous vehicle tested in public. This particular pilot project began in June 2016, in Sion, Switzerland, with two electric and autonomous buses offering residents and visitors a unique way to access the city.
Autonomous vehicles are a major part of this Summit, and attendees will have the opportunity to test driverless shuttles from Easymile and Navya. It’s exciting to see the future of transport up close in person, and it seems that these vehicles will be everywhere much sooner than we think.
11:00–12:30, “How gender balance in public transport can improve social and business outcomes”
I knew from prior reading that women on average use public transport more than men, but I had no idea that globally women represent less than 15% of the public transport workforce. I hoped that this session could shed light on the problems of attracting women into the sector, and how companies can take steps to reduce gender inequality.
Claude Faucher, from France’s UTP (Public Transport Union), noted that 60% of women in public transport are in office and administration jobs; key to improving the gender balance is getting more women into supervising, engineering and technical roles. “We need to focus on education, encouraging women to study engineering, and providing guidance at all schooling levels”, said Ms Faucher.
Anne-Marie Lombardi, Head of Recruitment at Montréal’s STM, identified the hiring process as a key factor impeding gender equality in the sector. “To increase the number of women in public transport, we must ensure hiring practices are free of discrimination. At the beginning, only one person was doing interviews, and that person was a man. So now we have a full committee and female hiring staff to ensure a fair process”, said Ms Lombardi.
And this process appears to have worked. At present, three of the eight executive managers at STM are women – combined, they manage 70% of the workforce. The benefits of gender balance, continued Ms Lombardi, include a better representation of clientele, and a more innovative work environment. Diversity leads to new ideas and new approaches to problem solving; it’s as simple as that.
“What we are facing in Canada is gender-based occupational segregation”, claimed Leslie Dias, National Representative of UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union. Backing up this strong statement are clear facts: the median wage of men is 87% higher than women in the sector. So we should agree with Ms Dias that women face “systematic discrimination” due to workplace harassment, public violence (from commuters) and a general lack of awareness.
“Increasing the number of women in public transport is not only about economic benefits and diversity of ideas, it is primarily a social justice, labour and human rights issue”, continued Ms Dias. She proposed that women should have better access to leadership roles through dedicated internship and mentoring opportunities, and broadened outreach efforts.
The final speaker of this eye-opening session was Wilma Clement, the Assistant General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union. She cited some disturbing statistics about the poor working conditions that women in the transport sector face.
A 2014 survey found that 28% of female bus conductors in Bangkok had worn adult diapers in a job that forced them to work up to 16 hours a day without toilet breaks. This resulted in high levels of uterine cancer and infections. Ms Clement stressed the importance of ‘decent’ working conditions, including clean toilet facilities and reasonable timetables.
I left this session disheartened by the severe barriers that women must overcome, but also inspired by the efforts that public transport authorities and operators are taking all over the world to reduce inequality.
14:00–15:30, “The new security paradigm: addressing threats old and new”
In the wake of Friday’s cyber-attack – the biggest the world has ever seen, claiming more than 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries – a session on security seemed especially important. Also considering that the WannaCry ‘ransom-ware’ virus targeted Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn, and French automaker Renault, I hoped that the speakers would address the threat of cybersecurity.
There were three clear takeaways from this session: 1) There is no one-size-fits-all solution to security; 2) Strong partnerships are key; and 3) Big Data is essential in improving security systems. In regards to that last point, I think we all should agree with chairperson Randy Clarke, Vice President of Operations at the American Public Transportation Association: “We are a big data society now, so we should be using data to bolster our security prevention strategy”.
On the topic of big data, Fernando Covac, Director of Cittati Technologies in São Paulo, shared his company’s innovative approach to tackling the problem of violent crime that plagues Brazil’s public transport system. Cittati developed an app that offers navigation functionality, and, more importantly, the ability for users to report problems and incidents. This data can then be shared with police to more rapidly respond to issues, and inform future security measures.
Mr Covac noted that social network data mining is an incredibly important tool that allows for an optimised security strategy. In the state of Bahia, 95% of police reports are not investigated, yet commuters tend to report crimes on social media platforms. This data can be used to map when and where problems occur, which in turn can improve security measures. “Using this social media and app data showed us a new perspective as to how we can prevent crimes. Big Data and IoT are the future of this area”, concluded Mr Covac.
Peter Armstrong-Whitworth, Regional Manager of Canada’s Transportation Security and Emergency Preparedness, stressed the partnership angle: “Security is a shared responsibility that requires close collaboration and partnership. Stakeholder engagement is perhaps the most important aspect of the new security paradigm.”
That’s all from me today. I hope you’ll join me back here tomorrow, where I’ll be covering autonomous vehicles and innovation in the sector. I’ll leave you with the wise words of UITP President Masaki Ogati, from his address at yesterday’s Opening Ceremony: “Public transport must innovate in order to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. Now is the time to lead the transition”.