By Dorinda So
What a year it has been already and we aren’t even halfway through. As I write this, I have just passed my first year as Executive Director of pointA. I started my career at Toyota Canada in customer strategy and retention just after the global recession in 2009 and more than a decade later, I find myself in the world of sustainable transportation during a global pandemic. One thing is for sure: transportation is more relevant than ever as people still need – and want – to get around. And as I reflect back on the past year, here are a few things I’ve learned.
Cycling is much easier to learn as a driver
Last fall, a few members of the pointA team took the CAN-BIKE advanced cycling course, taught by Kelly Bray, pointA’s Office Manager. While I was able to ride the bike, I quickly realized that I was actually relying on muscle memory from when I was a child cycling on a kid’s bike and therefore I had no idea how to use or switch gears or properly operate an adult bike.
Thankfully, the course taught me the mechanics of the bike and it helped me gain the confidence to cycle on roads with bike lanes. Learning how to cycle properly gave me the knowledge on the safety features of a bike, how to handle my bike, and how to handle hazardous situations. Interestingly, because I could drive, the road and rules felt familiar to me, and it helped me measure distance and timing.
On the other hand, cycling made me realize how much I didn’t know how to share the road. They don’t really teach this to you in driving school and you skim right through the few pages on it when you take the G1 test. When you move from driver to cyclist you learn what it’s like on both sides of the road and experiencing this helped me to recognize the importance of continued education to ensure that I could be a better cyclist…and driver.
Our work needs to continue to focus on transit equity
When I was an undergraduate student, I completed a co-op work term in former City of Toronto Councillor Norm Kelly’s office, co-authoring Fair Share Scarborough with Katherine Chan. The report examined how Scarborough fared on 10 City of Toronto services compared to the rest of Toronto. Transit was one such service and we found that much of Scarborough transit is made up of buses but we were reluctant to say that Scarborough was not receiving its fair share of City services. After all, it had the longest kilometres of transit (as in bus lines) but our conclusion garnered spirited debate around transit and this became my first experience in hearing how much transit is a necessary part of urban life. It is a place where we can all come together for relatively low cost and therefore a great enabler of social mobility.
pointA focuses primarily with the commuter’s experience around transportation and provides the knowledge, support, and encouragement for them to try more sustainable forms of transportation. In doing so, we come to understand the lived experience of commuting and the concerns around safety, security, and access. These issues continue to be important conversations for individuals, firms, and governments and this pandemic has exacerbated the need to continue working on improving transit equity. Public transit remains a critical investment for all levels of government as we recover from the pandemic. Front line workers and those making essential trips still rely heavily on public transportation and continue to be the key driver for economic growth and the health and well-being of our communities.
Innovation continues to be key to climate change…and change for the better
A definition of innovation is incremental change over time to produce more value add to an existing process, good, or service. At pointA, encouraging people to move out of single occupancy vehicles and into sustainable forms of transportation often requires innovation and design thinking. Our programming helps businesses make incremental changes over time so that employees can easily transition to more sustainable forms of transportation for the long run.
Over the past year, we’ve taken this innovation approach to heart. We’ve uncovered some of the assumptions behind our work, practices, ways of doing (e.g., why do continue to have an office space?) so that we think about our individual and collective impact on the environment and society. Taking on an innovation mentality has often resulted in a lot of change but I’m a big believer that if we want to address wicked problems like climate change, we must do so one step at a time, one person at a time. As a student of design thinking and innovation, we applied some of those principles to the development of our upcoming Design the New Normal campaign, which gathers input and feedback from those living in York Region to understand what they think the new normal of transportation will look like and to give them the opportunity to learn how to cycle and to help inform their travel decisions. We are ready to listen and learn and hopefully we can bring some of these ideas to life.
During this pandemic, the pointA team has been working remotely and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. This is partly because we were preparing for remote work before the quarantine period started and so when our office had to close, we were able to become a virtual organization almost overnight. This is a testament to a great team and the willingness to challenge assumptions, innovate, and make meaningful but small changes that can produce some pretty fantastic and unexpected results.
We are continuing to take this innovation approach during this time of quarantine, coming up with new programs, services and insights that we hope you will find useful.
It’s been an exciting year to say the least, but I am thankful to have learned so many things thus far and look forward to embracing whatever comes next.