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Women in TransitTech: Nicole Maione.

In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series.

Via Transportation •
Challenging the status quo takes diligence, determination, and vision — especially when it comes to an industry that hasn’t seen a seismic shift since the automobile was invented. And, as it turns out, it’s often women who choose to challenge these norms. In honor of International Women’s Day and throughout the month of March, Via is proud to profile a number of changemakers driving real innovation in their communities and inspiring their peers. Enjoy the story below, and then check out the rest of the series here.

Nicole Maione was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario — a beautiful community located in the heart of the Great Lakes. After receiving her Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Ottawa, Nicole spent a year studying International Business Concepts in France. Following a few years of travel, she was offered a position with the City of Sault Ste. Marie as the Events Assistant at the newly-constructed Sports and Entertainment Arena — home to the OHL's Soo Greyhounds. Within her first year, she was promoted to Business and Administrative Coordinator, a position she held for 11 years before transitioning to Transit in late 2018.    

What did 10-year-old Nicole want to be when she grew up? How did you evolve from there to your current position in transportation?   When I think back to being a 10-year-old girl, I simply recall enjoying all that childhood had to offer. I did not have a strong focus on my future career aspirations. As I entered the workforce, I quickly realized that I took pride in taking on projects, investigating ways to improve efficiencies, and, most of all, I truly enjoyed working with people.

As the years moved on, I began to feel a strong desire to pair my skill set and interest with meaningful work and positively impacting people's lives. When the opportunity to transition into transportation came up, I felt that it was the perfect next step to combine my skill set and passion for work that serves a different kind of purpose in peoples’ lives.   

What do you think are the most important qualities in a leader? Are there any leaders in particular you look up to? I feel quite strongly that two essential qualities in a leader are honesty and integrity; the ability to be strong in decision-making and do what is right and necessary in a variety of situations. In addition, I believe that having the ability to see employees as individuals who may be experiencing pressures of their own is essential to building strong and trusting relationships. Good leaders have a combination of empathy and accountability when working with their team.

Finally, none of the above is possible without communication skills. Communication is not only providing information to a team — it is engaging with the team and listening to their suggestions, thoughts and feelings. After all, they are the ones working the front lines. '

The art of communication is the language of leadership'  — James Humes

What are the big transit challenges in your community that your team is solving with innovative mobility projects? One of the biggest challenges currently facing Transit is finding a way to ensure both passengers and staff feel safe and comfortable using public transit. This is more crucial than ever, with the situation we are all now facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to staying up to date, adhering to, and communicating the latest changes and policies, Sault Ste. Marie Transit is also working to replace aging infrastructure and update current technologies to ensure a safe, effective, and efficient transit system. A large piece of this will include expanding our current Sault Ste. Marie On Demand service. Essentially, modifying how we utilize microtransit technologies to ensure a safe experience for all.

In your view, what’s the biggest challenge the transportation industry as a whole will have to tackle in the next 2-5 years? The main challenges facing transit will be how to increase ridership to pre-pandemic levels. I believe that this can be achieved by working closely with partner agencies in our City, staff and the Transit community to ensure we are providing an efficient and safe transit system. It will be necessary to regain the confidence of our customers. This may also be achieved in the years to come as Transit agencies begin the transition to zero-emission buses, with the goal of reducing the greenhouse gas emission and attracting a new population to Transit.

Tell us about a defining moment in your professional life that has helped guide you on your path. It is quite difficult to pinpoint a specific defining moment in my career that has helped to guide my path however, as a young girl growing up in the Soo, I clearly recall my family taking public transit on a regular basis. When the opportunity for the Manager of Transit came up, I thought back to how transit was essential for my family growing up, like so many others; it truly served a greater purpose. I realized then that I wanted to be a part of this service, and I knew this type of work would be incredibly fulfilling.

And finally, what drives you? (Pun intended!) At the end of the day, I take comfort in the fact that our team works together to truly improve the lives of those who ride transit. Each and every day our team shows up to work, even if the weather is minus 30 degrees Celsius (or more) and ensures our passengers get to where they need to be. This could mean ensuring an individual has a way to get to work, the grocery store, a medical appointment, school or attend a much-needed social event. Regardless of the reason for travel, it is because of the Transit team that this is possible and I feel proud to be a part of this and look forward to the 'road' ahead.