Right now, mobility in Canada means pollution and the transportation sector is the biggest offender. In 2014 it was responsible for 24 % of national GHG emissions, and over half of those emissions were attributed specifically to personal vehicles. Convenience is key, and the numbers show that people consider their car to be the most convenient way to travel. To address the negative effects of using a personal vehicle, deterrents such as highway tolls and extra tax for less efficient cars have been introduced in hopes that by charging people for making “bad” choices, they will stop doing so. So far, it hasn’t worked. But how about the flip-side: creating alternatives that are just as convenient and easy, and make “doing the right thing” irresistible?
One way that governments can do this is to fund efficient, reliable, fast and fluid transportation systems. For over a decade VIA Rail has concentrated on improving the efficiency of our locomotives, streamlining our operations and reducing our fuel consumption. We have already reduced our GHG emissions by 25% and our fuel consumption by 27% over the past 6 years, in line with our COP 21 and UIC pledges. This week, we published our first Sustainable Mobility Report. It maps out all that we have accomplished in terms of sustainability to date as well as future goals. Despite our achievements in emission reduction, we have reached a plateau within the constraints of our current operating system. Since VIA Rail was founded in 1977, we have shared the railway infrastructure with freight trains and therefore do not have full control over our schedules or our reliability. We have started to look for solutions outside of our system, asking what could be accomplished if the constraints were lifted.
The plan we developed – recently mentioned in the 2016 federal budget– is to build a dedicated passenger rail corridor (preferably on electrified rails) starting in the busiest Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor. This project that would lead to a reduction of 98% of GHG compared to our current (already reduced) emissions. It would make travelling by train so convenient, that conservative estimates show Canadians would make 5.5 million fewer car trips per year and that our ridership would triple. It would create thousands of jobs, stimulate the economy, increase property value and could potentially eliminate the operating subsidy given to VIA Rail by the government by 2024. Not to mention that it could be deployed within 4 years of being funded.
Press Secretary Brook Simpson, from the Office of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities confirmed in April that, “[The government wants]…to support economic growth that is clean and inclusive. And our government believes that economic growth, social inclusion and a solid climate change agenda do not compete – they complement each other.” We couldn’t agree more.
n.b. This post is an abridgement of my Op Ed that ran in La Presse today. To read the whole piece (French only) click here.
As this blog’s title may suggest, VIA Rail is evolving. Even the Canada Transportation Act Review Report, tabled last month, underscored that “modernizing VIA Rail is long overdue”. We agree, and have already started the work needed to move us forward. To help guide us, we crafted a new vision and mission statement this year, and they have become the cornerstones of our transformation strategy.
Our new vision: to be a smarter way to move people
This new vision reflects VIA Rail’s commitment to sustainable mobility and transportation. We want Canadians to be smarter when they travel and take the train, rather than their cars, to decrease the environmental impact of Canadian travel. Moving Canadians out of their cars and into the train will reduce congestion and allow Canadians to increase their productivity while traveling. We want our customers to be moved both through their physical journey and an emotional connection to the train experience each of us endeavor to deliver every day.
Our new mission: Passengers first. We constantly go above and beyond to offer our passengers a more meaningful and safer way to experience Canada.
This new mission starts with a call to action that reflects the changes that have been taking place at VIA Rail over the past year and a half, as we have shifted to become more customer-centric. The outstanding customer service from our on board crews, in station staff, and call centre personnel, have been a key part of our success for the past few years, and will be the foundation for future success. Our customers are at the heart of our decisions at all levels and in all sectors. We will always strive to ensure their satisfaction, comfort and safety.
The status quo is not an option at VIA Rail. Our forward-thinking is reflected in our six new values: Innovation, Know-how, Trust, Agility, Accountability, and Integrity. This flexible approach allows us to be more agile and respond quickly to opportunities so we can offer an even smarter way to travel. Each employee—through their ideas, dedication and determination—is an active participant in VIA Rail’s evolution. Our new vision, mission, and values reflect our aspirations and dedication to the projects we hope to make a reality in the coming years.
Last week, Forbes unveiled its inaugural list of Canada’s Best Employers. The list ranked 250 companies, operating in 25 different industries, from government agencies to multinational to universities and financial institutions. VIA Rail ranked high on the list at number 47. We are pleased to be acknowledged one of Canada’s best employers, especially given today’s business context and the challenges VIA Rail will need to overcome in the near future. The next couple of years will be critical as we continue to modernize passenger rail in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor and across Canada.
Our place on the Forbes list place is a strong reflection of the pride all VIA Rail employees share in our organization and our dedication to moving people—in both senses of the word. It is also an acknowledgment of the success of our goal to be an employer of choice through commitment to four key areas:
Employee engagement– In June 2015, we conducted an employee survey and shared the results with all employees last fall. With everyone’s input, we developed 32 action plans. We are committed to implementing these plans, to reporting our progress regularly and to conducing another employee engagement survey this coming fall. Together, we will increase the overall engagement of our team.
Health and wellbeing- VIA Rail employees often refer to each other as family. In fact, many of our employees are railroaders from generation to generation. And so, it is only normal that we should be committed to promoting a healthy, respectful and safe environment at work as we do at home. Many initiatives will be launched this year to ensure those objectives. In particular, we will adopt the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
Diversity and inclusion– We aim to be diverse and inclusive in our hiring. Our Board of Directors is made up of five women and five men. Our officer team consists of five men and three women. We are a proud partner of the Canada Company Military Employment Program, an initiative developed to help members of the Canadian Armed Forces, reservists, and veterans transition out of the military and into the civilian workforce.
Attracting and developing people– We are always looking for opportunities to encourage internal growth. We recently opened applications for our Locomotive Engineer training program which will train 20 internal candidates, with the necessary qualifications, to be Locomotive Engineers. Also, we recently launched the VIA Rail Leadership School to help our managers develop and grow. Finally, we will formalize our apprenticeship programs.
Our spot on the Canada’s Best Employers list confirms that all our employees, whether in maintenance centres or stations, on trains or in offices, are the embodiment of VIA Rail’s new vision “to be a smarter way to move people”.
Thank you for your contribution to our company’s present and future successes!
As part of Black History Month, VIA Rail has partnered with Toronto Children’s Breakfast Club for the past nine years to organize a day trip to Parliament Hill for children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It’s a great trip that everyone enjoys participating in, if just for the look on the kids’ faces when they get on the train for the first time. This year, Warden Avenue Public School participated for the first time, and our trains brought 70 of their students to our nation’s capital to visit Parliament and learn more about their country. Anja Belter, Principal of Warden Avenue Public School describes her students’ experience below.
Why was it important that your students participate in this event?
There are so many reasons it was an important day and many of them are practical. Most of our students had never left Toronto, or even their borough. Many are new Canadians who are unfamiliar with our parliament and democratic process. This was an empowering experience for them. Every adult they spoke with (including Prime Minister Trudeau) emphasized that students have real power to make change and their circumstances shouldn’t deter them from making change.
How did the train play a role in their experience?
Most of our students had never been on the train. Some had taken a train in their home countries, but not in Canada. They enjoyed looking out the window and watching the scenery go by. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing the service attendants were. They were courteous and respectful, and they treated our students like adults. And in return, the students behaved like adults.
Can you share any stories from the train ride?
Every moment of the journey was a moment discovery for the kids. “Ms. Belter did you know there are plugs in the seats?” “Ms. Belter did you know that the seats recline?” “Ms. Belter did you know they are going to come down the aisles with food?” The things we take for granted as adults were all new experiences for them.
Any final thoughts?
Every time I thought our students had reached the zenith of their excitement, it reached another level. This was a 17 hour day for our teachers, but no one complained. Everyone talked about what a powerful and incredible opportunity it was, and how much our kids were soaking in this experience. Our students recognized that this day was made possible through donations, not charity, from companies that wanted them to be a part of this important experience. They will never forget this day. We are very grateful that they had this opportunity.
I have always been passionate about embracing innovation and encouraging creative ideas, and consider it a hallmark of my leadership style. Employee innovation and creativity will play essential roles in VIA Rail’s success, which is why last fall we introduced a new employee recognition program: the Distinction Awards. This is a regional program where employees nominate other employees who excel in the fields of customer service, maintenance, innovation, and team building. In addition to recognizing employees who have gone above and beyond, we hope these awards inspire others to follow their example.
At a national level, we introduced the Client Innovation Challenge. It invites all VIA Rail employees to submit their ideas on how we could further improve our customer experience. Many of our employees are customer-facing, and therefore have an insider’s perspective on how to best meet their needs. Employees from all sectors submitted projects based on their own experiences. The Client Innovation Challenge was a concrete way to recognize the value of their ideas and experiences.
Nine teams rose to the challenge and, after careful consideration, our selection committee narrowed down the proposals down to three finalists. The diversity of the proposed projects was amazing, the finalists of which addressed inter-modality, technology, and an online kids program. We had only planned on selecting one winning team, but we were so impressed with the caliber of our employees’ projects that we decided to award the prize to all three finalists. Since VIA Rail’s commitment to employee innovation goes beyond just words, these three projects will go into development in the upcoming year.
Our winners were celebrated on stage at our employee distinction event. It was an honour to present the winners with their trophies and share their innovative projects with the rest of our employees. Pictured here is our winning team from Toronto who are getting kids excited about taking the train by modernizing our onboard kids program and adding an online component.
Based on the success of this year’s Client Innovation Challenge, we intend to continue with this initiative and to inspire future creative thinking. So if you have a game-changing idea, don’t hesitate to share it! Participate in the 2016 Client Innovation Challenge and submit your innovative ideas early and often.
Congratulations again to all our winners!