Canadian urban transit research and innovation consortium

A Canada-wide consortium of companies, institutions and municipal groups aims to make Canada a world leader in zero-and low-emissions transportation technologies.

To achieve this goal, the industry-led Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) hires people who are highly educated, passionate about the environment and great communicators.

Incorporated as a not-for-profit in 2014 and based in Toronto, the consortium has looked to government-funded internship programs to supplement the salaries of the smart young scientists it wants on staff. Two interns have been hired through a Mitacs program funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program. Others have been hired with funding from Natural Resources Canada.

“We are always looking for new talent,” says Josipa Petrunic, the consortium’s executive director and CEO. It has hired recent graduates with masters degrees and doctorates. Some have multi-disciplinary degrees that blend science with business skills such as program management. These people “just simmer with excitement,” she says.

“I can’t speak highly enough of internships,” says Petrunic, who did post-doctoral research in electric-vehicle innovation at McMaster University’s Automotive Resource Centre in Hamilton, Ont. “We’ve been able to hire loyal, dedicated graduates who were under-employed and probably underpaid during their graduate careers.”

Intern Joshua Goodfield, who has a Master’s of Applied Sciences from Toronto’s Ryerson University and a Bachelor in Geography and Environmental Sciences from Queen’s University, is a junior project development officer at CUTRIC. Long concerned about the air pollution caused by cars and buses in Toronto, he is delighted to work on CUTRIC’S National Smart Vehicle Demonstration & Integration Project.

Now offered a permanent position at CUTRIC, Goodfield helped organize a series of open forums in different cities that brought together people interested in next-generation public transit. The forums discussed opportunities and barriers to the use of low-emission, autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles, such as buses and shuttles.

Goodfield also organized CUTRIC’s bi-monthly board meetings where he learned how non-profit organizations were run and complex decisions made.

“When you are in school, you are living in a bubble until you enter the real world and reality hits,” he says. “The internship allows organizations to take a risk on people with little work experience. It enables emerging leaders to gain the skill sets they need to get ahead.”

CUTRIC has launched a Pan-Canadian bus project that promotes “plug and play” standardization in the manufacturing industry.

“It’s a challenge to get competitors to work together,” says Petrunic. However, standardization is key to developing a robust low-emission industry and export market, she says.

Canadian municipalities are increasingly supportive of low-carbon solutions for public transport, she says. For example, York Region Transit, which recently purchased six electric buses for the town of Markham, has a mandate to achieve zero-emissions by 2051. Similarly, Brampton Transit has announced plans to deploy up to 10 electric buses and four overhead electrical charging stations.

CUTRIC’s mandate inspires the staff, she says. “Their dedication is important. You can’t force it,” she says. “Every person has to count 150% when working for a start-up.”

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