Bill Volk, retired Managing Director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD), will be inducted in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Awards Hall of Fame. The award will be conferred at the APTA Annual Meeting September 2016 in Los Angeles.
This special honor, which began in 1983, is reserved for individuals who have long and distinguished careers in the industry; who have made extraordinary contributions to public transportation; and who have actively participated in APTA activities. This esteemed award has been granted to fewer than 150 men and women.
“Congratulations to Bill Volk, the longest serving head of an American public transportation system, for his acceptance into the APTA Hall of Fame,” said APTA Acting President/CEO Richard A. White. “An effective advocate for public transportation, he advanced funding for public transit systems on the local level and the national level. Due to his efforts, funding for public transit systems in Illinois and across the country was increased.”
Across the U.S., few transit managers have had a larger impact than Volk. MTD’s Managing Director for 40 years, he redefined transit locally and led innovations impacting cities nationwide. After graduating from Indiana University and working for several years in transit in Indiana, Volk accepted the managing director position at MTD. He inherited a transit system in turmoil and became its third manager in the three years since its creation. There were just 13 buses and annual ridership was 555,000. Today, ridership is more than 13 million and there is a fleet of 102 buses.
“Bill Volk was a pragmatic visionary who worked to put his dreams into action. Always ahead of the time, he saw accessibility to transit as a civil right and was an early adopter of the use of low-floor buses,” said Valarie McCall, APTA Chair and board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. “Volk also started the Illinois Public Transportation in 1975, where he served as president. He was also instrumental on the national level where he served on many APTA committees including the Executive Committee, vice chair of the Small Operations Committee, and chair of the Legislative Committee.”
Bill was involved in every piece of legislation affecting Downstate Illinois during his tenure. In 2013, he was honored with IPTA’s first lifetime achievement award — named in his honor.
With the added revenue from a successful 1977 local tax referendum, service doubled and Sunday and evening service were reintroduced. Full accessibility for those with disabilities was achieved in 1983. The opening of Illinois Terminal was a major development in downtown Champaign and helped herald a renaissance with infill development, employment and residential growth, and new construction.
Perhaps no idea of Volk's has been copied as much as unlimited access. In 1989, the University of Illinois approved a transportation fee that would fund unlimited access to students, faculty, and staff. Scores of communities across the country, both large and small, have adopted similar programs.
U.S. Senator Richard Durbin said, “Bill’s innovative accomplishments have been ongoing throughout his career. His vision for the future was often ahead of his peers… Bill was always my first call when I was thinking through the issues that downstate transit providers were facing. His knowledge and understanding was always a great resource for me and my staff.”
Volk researched and authored the initial concept for the Federal Small Transit Intensive Cities funding tier. His efforts led the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to study the issue and conclude the concept was valid. APTA then supported the provision until it became law. It is arguably the most important legislation that has ever been enacted for small transit systems.
MTD twice received APTA's Outstanding Achievement Award. In addition to the APTA participation McCall mentioned above, Bill served as APTA VP-Marketing and, as a result of his efforts to initially establish funding in the APTA budget for marketing transit, he received the 1991 Jesse Haugh Award.
“In the early 70’s, transit was not a field people were clamoring to enter. Valuable mentors and minimal experience made me marketable enough to lead a transit system at the age of 25,” Volk said. “Positive outcomes, a Board not averse to risk taking, and talented employees resulted in a 40+ year tenure without a promotion. This recognition is an affirmation of the value of public service and a legacy that I feel fortunate to be able to share with my family.”
Over his 44-year career, Bill contributed greatly to his community, his state, and the transit industry.