The world of clean technology has grown massively in the past few years, with the need for humanity to change how it operates becoming ever more important. Few have been more successful in this endeavour than the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC). Recognized in Corporate Vision’s Corporate Excellence Awards as the Most Influential Leader in Clean Transportation Technology – 2020, we are delighted to be able to turn to the company’s CEO Josipa Petrunic to see how she earned this incredible accolade.
Many are just opening their eyes to the need to turn attention to cleaner technology, with the environment becoming an increasingly important issue to consider. That said, finding the organizations and businesses to support the development of this vital work is not always easy to come by.
Once a researcher in public policy, shaping electric car technologies and their adoption in Canada, we started our interview by asking Josipa Petrunic, Executive Director and CEO of CUTRIC, what led her down this path. In 2015, with the help of a volunteer Board of Directors of dedicated individuals from core agencies like Brampton Transit, Thales Canada, and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), I launched CUTRIC to revolutionize public transit technologies across the country and deliver better shared mobility options to Canadians.”
From these humble beginnings, it has been possible for Josipa and her team to focus on spearheading, designing, and launching technology and commercialization projects that advance next-generation “low-carbon smart mobility” technologies across Canada. Josipa explains that “our vision is to make Canada a global leader in low-carbon smart mobility technologies across heavy-duty and light-duty platforms, including advanced transit buses, coaches, rail vehicles and non-revenue service cars and trucks owned and operated by public fleets. Our mission is to do this all through technology projects that commercialize great ideas through massive integration trials that monitor technology performance and help transit agencies and cities move towards large-scale procurements. These projects range from industry-led collaborative research with universities, through to large community-based business- to-business demonstration and integration trials that bring innovative design to Canada’s low-carbon smart mobility eco-system.”
The biggest challenge to this work is the difficulty of growing a low- carbon eco-system in a country based primarily on fossil fuel extraction. Fortunately, this industry has been growing on a global scale, and there are extraordinary opportunities for both the company and Canada at large in the foreseeable future.
Though CUTRIC’s mandate is deeply tied to public transportation, many of the company’s projects are based in the private sector, a unique collaboration that Josipa was keen to explain: “The taxpayer is already burdened with core social services to deliver, and technology innovation is not best pursued within the houses of government. Unless there is a profit to be made over the long-term, projects will not get off the ground. We see the private sector as taking a necessary leadership role in the fight against climate change, and as having the financing and profit-motivation to do so.”
In addition to their work in technology and commercialization, CUTRIC aims to address the hurdles society faces in using transit. She went on to explain the societal problems with public transport, and how removing this stigma could be a positive change in and of itself. “For too long, transit has been treated in North America as the mobility mode of last resort – something people are forced to use when they can’t afford a car. In our view, transit customers deserve better than that. We value the reputation of transit, and aim to make it the place to go to get around, to meet people, to commute faster and more comfortably than you can do in a car in all cases across all of Canada – from the dense urban centres of Toronto to the sparse rural areas of northern Saskatchewan and the North West Territories.”
All this work is undertaken for a range of core clients in a variety of industries. Each sector has its own contrasting demands and expectations, which can be clearly illustrated by comparing the needs of private industry with public transit agencies. While private industry expects long-term business opportunities to justify investment, public transit agencies need to see the improvement over the status quo that can be offered, especially when it comes to operational savings. CUTRIC assists by ensuring industry can make these investments, and that public agencies can measure and quantify the benefit.
With much of its work focused on development and innovation, it’s understandable that CUTRIC has had a number of challenges to face. “At times, we have faced failures in project development,” Josipa agrees, “but we have always emerged with long-term successes to boast, because of the dedication, commitment and loyalty to the cause by CUTRIC employees. Our employees are trusted to carry our brand, carry our message, present to diverse stakeholders, advocate for our initiatives and face criticism when it comes” Josipa notes, with a touch of pride that “CUTRIC is a place where people come to change the world.”
With such importance placed on employees, we thought we’d ask how the company is able to find such exceptional people to place in its employ. “Today, we look for talented and diverse individuals who we believe will add great value to the team,” Josipa explains. “We use a three-step hiring process that includes assignments, video interviews, and in-person presentations as part of the hiring process to ensure we have the right candidate for our team and to ensure that we can find those “unicorns” when we go hunting for them.”
Our interview turned to the future, with the need for action taken in the realm of climate change more urgent than ever before. Josipa explains that in several Canadian jurisdictions, provincial governments have opposed and continued to fight against climate action policies that could make a real difference to the crisis. “The result is that we face a challenging provincial landscape in terms of commitments to environmental action, and innovation investment in areas like electrification or automation of transit services. This has created investment delays and a perceived sense of uncertainty at times as to whether Canada is indeed ‘open for business’ in low-carbon technology innovation.”
Regardless, the company has big plans looking forward. The launch of the ACES Big Data Trust – ACES standing for Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared – will encourage the real-time collection and sharing of electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric bus data and charging system data across multiple jurisdictions. It’s the opportunity to access an enormous amount of data that can be fed into new designs and create better products in the future.
Our time with Josipa is now at an end, but we feel enlightened about her work and what her and her team are trying to do in a challenging climate. The need to act is ever more important, and any positive steps to making that happen should be applauded. Certainly, we think that Josipa, and the work of CUTRIC is sure to continue its incredible success.
Company: Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC)
Contact: Josipa Petrunic, Executive Director & CEO