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Keolis Downer: offering more to the community than just a great commute

Keolis Downer is Australia’s leading multimodal operator, with three light rail networks, one heavy rail network and four bus operations across four states.

The Keolis Downer partnership brings together two leaders: global public transport specialists Keolis who partners with 300 Public transport authorities across the globe, and Australia’s leading engineering and infrastructure management firm, Downer, which boasts full rail capability, from manufacturing and maintenance of network assets, and is also a leader in the design and delivery of energy transition projects.

Beyond having the local and global expertise to deliver a world-class passenger experience, Keolis Downer has delivered projects and built partnerships that create sustainable benefits for local communities, offering more than a great commute.

In Melbourne, the operator’s earlier work in community benefit focused on the Yarra Trams Community Partnerships Program, which offers tram wraps to six charitable organisations every year to help them promote their important work.

In recent years the program has gone far beyond the initial advertising value, to focus on nurturing real-value partnerships with these organisations.

Supply chain is one area where Keolis Downer Yarra Trams saw significant opportunities to grow relationships with for-purpose and community organisations.

Large, complex, and established supply chains like Yarra Trams’ can be difficult for smaller suppliers to break into, and the operator worked to identify areas of work which for example were currently delivered by mainstream suppliers, which could potentially be shifted to social suppliers.

One such partnership includes migrant women support social enterprise, SisterWorks, which was engaged into Keolis Downer Yarra Trams’ uniform supply chain, with the intent to strategically grow the pipeline to high-value, high-profile engagements for a client with stable, recurring opportunities.

Keolis Downer Yarra Trams also works to connect partners with each other to help create efficiencies; helping establish a collaboration between SisterWorks and another supplier, Aboriginal-owned corporation A2B Consumables, to co-locate in A2B’s warehouse in Echuca, regional Victoria, to deliver on-site embroidery services.

This collaboration was enabled by Yarra Trams’ donation of the cost of the embroidery machine for SisterWorks to operate, and will increase A2B’s efficiency in providing embroidered products.

Beyond for-purpose partnerships, Keolis Downer Yarra Trams has also undertaken a significant program to increasingly localise spend and grow the skills and capabilities of local Victorian suppliers. This ranges from more than $7m spent in Bendigo at the Bendigo Tramways Trust, to hundreds of thousands spent in Western Melbourne for parts such as tram doors and brake discs.

The major suppliers used by Keolis Downer are essentially Australian for 93%, which reflects our priority in supporting local Australian businesses.

Localising procurement has a myriad of benefits, from reduced transport emissions, to growing local economies, job creation, and often shorter turnaround times for materials.

This approach toward building true partnerships that help build the capacity of partner organisations extends beyond the supply chain, into recruitment.

Keolis Downer Yarra Trams aims to employ a workforce as diverse as the community they serve, and has partnered with organisations across Melbourne to encourage people from all walks of life to consider a career with the operator.

One particular focus area is increasing the representation of women and gender-diverse people across their workforce, and over the last three years more than half of the 620 new tram drivers hired have been female or non-binary, putting the operator well on the way to achieve their 2030 goal of 30% female and gender-diverse employees.

The operator has also identified areas where women and gender-diverse people are less well represented in the organisation trades.

Keolis Downer Yarra Trams has previously focused on hiring female trade apprentices, with three-quarters of overhead apprentices hired in 2022 being female. However, this is an industry-wide challenge that requires more than just good hiring practices at an operator level if rail wants to see better representation in trades into the future.

Notably, the operator is sponsoring North Melbourne’s AFLW team and their ground-breaking Freestyle – Women in Trades program which encourages young women and non-binary individuals to pursue roles in traditionally male-dominated industries. Yarra Trams is a leading employer of tradespeople and will connect these young people to opportunities across the business as well as opportunities in tram driving and customer service.

In a rapidly evolving industry, Keolis Downer’s efforts to foster inclusivity and diversity are not only reshaping the rail workforce but also setting a precedent for the future of the public transportation industry in Melbourne.

Keolis Downer has been the proud steward of Yarra Trams since 2009 and has not only delivered technical innovations worthy of the world’s largest tram network, but is also looking at how the network can support the growth and development of Australia’s largest city and the people that call it home.

As Melbourne continues to grow and change, Melburnians can be sure they have a tram network that will grow and adapt in reflection of their great city.

At Keolis Downer, we understand that our responsibility goes beyond offering reliable public transport. It’s about investing in the communities we serve, creating a positive ripple effect that extends far beyond the daily commute. Whether through community outreach programs, infrastructure improvements, or environmental initiatives, we are dedicated to making a meaningful difference in the lives of those we touch.