Yarra Trams
21 September 2020

Fast Five: How Yarra Trams is staying the course through (and beyond) COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought millions to a standstill, Yarra Trams’ Chief Executive has kept Melbourne moving, and explains why this crisis is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Melbourne.

Welcome to another edition of Fast Five. This week the Victorian Chamber is proud to present Julien Dehornoy, the Chief Executive of Yarra Trams.

While Melbourne boasts its growing population and growing infrastructure, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought chaos to the greater City of Melbourne and its public transport network.

So how has Yarra Trams been able to navigate the slowdown caused by COVID-19 while still managing to prepare for Melbourne’s growing population? Julien explains.

Yarra Trams' Chief Executive, Julian Dehornoy.
Yarra Trams' Chief Executive, Julien Dehornoy.

#1: How has COVID-19 impacted Yarra Trams and its operations in the long term?

There has been a significant drop in our patronage, with numbers as low as seven per cent of normal during Stage Four restrictions. This means an immediate financial challenge, and we are thankful that the State Government has been able to step in and provide support.

Examples from other cities show a hesitancy to return to public transport, with a preference for other modes. So, I expect our patronage numbers won’t return to normal until a vaccine is found.

This creates opportunities for us to look at how we can adapt to passengers’ changing expectations to encourage people back to our services.

There has never been a better or more appropriate time to innovate or undertake works to upgrade the network.

#2: What has been Yarra Trams’ greatest achievement over the past year?

While there have been many achievements, I would have to say our COVID response and creating jobs for those unemployed due to COVID.

Our business’ nimble response to this ever-changing situation has kept our network running and people and passengers safe.

We’re providing safe services for people who need to travel on our trams and have worked closely with the State to introduce a number of initiatives.

Enhanced cleaning across our network continues, which includes nightly deep cleans and cleaning of high-touch points on trams at termini during services. While we’re employing almost 300 additional people to clean at stops through the State’s Working for Victoria Fund.

Extra shuttle services on Collins Street add capacity along the busy corridor, to allow space when restrictions lift and patronage increases. Plus, contactless hand-sanitiser stations have been installed across stops in the CBD, and we’re continuing onboard messages about cleaning and social distancing.

#3: What does Yarra Trams need to achieve greater success?

The public transport industry will need to adapt to a new post-COVID normal. Passenger expectations have changed and will never be the same again.

There will be the need for reinforced cleaning and safety, including social distancing, new work and commuter patterns, and an increased use of active mobility forms. In many ways we’ll have to reinvent ourselves and redefine the service we are providing to our passengers.

Trams will remain trams of course, but the way people will use them and what they expect from them will change. Anticipating those changes and proactively challenging the way things have been done – this is the path to greater success.

#4: What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career?

Becoming the CEO of the largest tram network in the world, of course! As a lover of trains and public transport since I was young, I am fortunate to have been able to make a career in public transport.

During this COVID-19 pandemic period, ensuring our operations continue while maintaining the safety of our employees and passenger, and by doing so, keeping our city moving for those essential workers who have kept Melbourne alive is something I’ve been very proud of.

It reminds you of the utter importance of public transport and the vital role it plays within a community.

#5: What excites you about the future?

Our COVID recovery. The way we will emerge from this crisis will redefine the way we move across our cities for many years. COVID is a catalyst of change, for bad or good. It is up to us to make it an opportunity for better tram journeys and give people good reasons to get out of their cars. This is a global challenge, as public transport across all big cities is facing similar challenges.

Anticipating changing needs and behaviours, shaping these changes, discussing them with our partners and finding ways to deliver will surely be a fantastic challenge and a unique opportunity!

How could someone who’s passionate about public transport not be truly excited by this? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

Business mentoring program 

The VCCI has partnered with the Victorian Government to deliver a business mentoring program to help small businesses navigate the economic challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions and to help grow small businesses into the future. 

Through this program, eligible business owners can receive one-on-one mentoring sessions with an experienced professional who will help them make informed decisions about the future of their business. 

The program is open for applications, click here to register your interest now. 

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