My last day at RTAC is July 31. My wife lobbied me for the past several years to retire from full-time work and I finally gave in.
The most exciting part of retirement will be spending time with her. We will chill out for a while and then I might look for part-time work. We hope to move south to the land of mild winters.
When I came to RTAC in late 2000, I had some operational experience but little context as to how that prior job fit into the big picture of our rural transit environment. Learning IDOT’s role and getting involved with IPTA helped with that. IDOT and the Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) Advisory Council members provided guidance and support regarding work plan and conference agenda items. Looking back at some of the old photographs in our archives provided good memories. All of you have been so important to the Illinois rural transit environment.
The many rules, regulations, policies, and operational nuances have offered something new to learn about public transportation each day of the last seventeen years. As for the Section 5311 delivery system, I gained understanding of it through seeking out practitioners who possessed a strong blend of altruistic, ethical, and customer-focused ways of doing business. Then I asked you many questions. I still do. I appreciate the help I received from all of you who deliver transit services daily. There are too many to list individually and I will fondly remember you.
Our driver and support personnel training program was the core part of our work scope when I arrived. It remains an integral part of our services because safe transport of customers is vital. I thank Rudy Muzzarrelli, Bob Bugger, and Marcus Cox for all they have done and will continue to do.
I profusely thank Jacqueline Waters and Mable Kreps who have been important factors in the growth of the RTAC work scope. I value their work and their friendship. They have been important to me and will be the same for the new RTAC manager.
Edward Heflin will retire this summer as the director of the Rural Transit Assistance Center (RTAC), a unit of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. RTAC will have big shoes to fill to say the least. Ed’s contributions to the rural public transportation community are countless. He has been with RTAC since October 2000.
In December 2002, Ed was designated a Certified Community Transit Manager (CCTM) by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). The CCTM program certifies transit managers that are able to pass exams, which measure proficiency in human resources, finance, operations, procurement and contracting, and development of transit programs. His education and professional development in this program helped prepare him for the thousands of hours of technical assistance he would provide to Illinois public transportation systems over the years.
In 2004, Heflin was named to the newly-formed Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation (ICCT). ICCT was created by legislation passed by the State of Illinois. Its purpose was to encourage the coordination of public and private transportation services, with priority given to services directed toward those populations who are currently not served or who are underserved by existing public transit. Ed spearheaded and facilitated the ICCT primer process, which sought to bring together community stakeholders in counties unserved or underserved by public transportation in an effort to build transit service in those counties. To Ed’s credit, thirty-one downstate counties in Illinois have completed that process. The ICCT primer process truly set a standard for other states across the country to follow. The growth in rural public transportation across the state, in large part because of the work of Ed and his team at RTAC, is unprecedented.
But simply growing service was not enough for Heflin. He created a tool called the Illinois Rural Mobility Index, which tracks outcomes and uses them as performance measurements at rural public transit systems. The tool is being used by funding bodies and public transit systems alike to evaluate transportation coordination efforts and efficient use of resources. Most recently, Ed has been working to help calculate the economic benefit of public transportation in Illinois. This will serve as an important tool in justifying continued public investment in transit services across the state.
In addition to all of that, Ed has served for the past five years on the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, offering his rural transportation expertise to the organization, which is charged with developing a plan that includes leadership, research and education aimed at addressing provision of statewide independent living services throughout Illinois.
Ed’s passion for expanding rural public transportation and helping to make it more available, accessible, affordable, and efficient is unmatched. He has been actively involved in IPTA for many years, and his guidance and presence will be tremendously missed. Heflin has certainly left his mark on public transportation in Illinois, and he will not soon be forgotten. IPTA congratulates Ed and wishes him nothing but the best in his retirement! Thank you hardly seems sufficient for all you have done, Ed.
Bert Weber worked thirty-seven years at the Illinois Department on Aging. He had significant duties with the Senior Community Service Employment Program, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Foster Grandparents Program, Older Americans Act Services, Community Care Program, Senior Health Assistance Program, and Benefits Access Program. He was the agency’s representative to the Illinois Terrorism Task Force.
Bert was also the agency’s go-to person for transportation matters. He was an appointee to the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation and the Rural Transit Assistance Program Advisory Council. A fixture at our annual spring conferences, Bert also volunteered at our annual paratransit roadeo, including April 22 this year, five days before his passing.
While his professional accomplishments were many, more importantly he was a compassionate and caring individual, a family man who coached his children’s soccer, baseball, and softball teams. He was our friend. We mourn Bert Weber’s passing but celebrate the life of a good man.
- How did you get started in rural transportation?
As a small child, I dreamed of overseeing 5311 Non-Urbanized Public Transportation programs within the State of Illinois. In fact, it was the highest wish of my dear departed great-uncle Smitty that someday I would know the joys of things like Form OP-10A, FTA Best Practices, and federal procurement rule!
OK, in all seriousness, I was working in the economic development field when the economy tanked in 2008. While many economic development jobs went away at that time, transit jobs were open as funding expanded the Section 5311 program. Though economic development is not necessarily a direct path to transit, the background in that field taught me a great amount about project management, grant writing, community engagement, strategic planning, and working with units of government.
- If you didn’t have a transit background, how did you learn the ropes?
Learning non-urbanized transit was daunting since the logistics are so challenging and the regulatory compliance is . . . let’s also say daunting at the very least. Some of the best knowledge I gained was visiting with other transit operators and seeing how they ran their systems. I would often walk away from those visits with new ideas to implement.
Additionally, spending time with the staff was crucial. Helping drivers hook-up multiple mobility devices in 100-degree heat or sitting at the dispatch desk trying to rearrange a schedule on the fly due to a breakdown gives direct understanding of what the riders and drivers deal with on a daily basis. That knowledge helps to form how you plan your system.
- Did you have a mentor in transit?
Jeff Dean, CEO of Gateway Services in Princeton, got me involved in rural transit back in 2010 when he hired me to be program administrator of Bureau-Putnam Area Rural Transit (BPART), where I worked prior to coming to Kendal Area Transit (KAT). Jeff’s vision for community transportation led to a vast expansion of that program. Additionally, Jeff and I knew each other in LaSalle County, and I can say Jeff played a major role over a decade ago in getting the planning started for transit there as well. Jeff’s passion for rural transit has had a major influence on me over the years.
I also had the privilege to work with Tom Zucker, who helped bring me to the Voluntary Action Center (VAC) and the KAT program (KAT is operated by VAC for Kendall County). Tom’s vast knowledge of transit was unparalleled and his compassion for our ridership was unmatched. Tom is sorely missed, but his torch is being ably carried by VAC’s new CEO, Ellen Rogers.
Additionally, I have the benefit of continuing to work with my predecessor, Paul LaLonde, as he assumed the role of VAC’s Assistant Executive Director. Paul and I started in transit around the same time and we developed a great rapport over the years trying to solve the problems of the world!
Finally, I would say that say that there are so many people that influenced me . . . drivers, operations staff, riders and community leaders. Each one of those people has an impact in shaping how I approach my job.
- Toughest day-to-day operational problem
The biggest challenge we face in Kendall is serving multiple population centers that are pulled in many different directions: Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, DeKalb County, and of course, all over Kendall County proper. For example, when I worked in Bureau County, BPART served one dialysis clinic on a consistent basis. In Kendall, we have served as many as six dialysis centers on any given day and those clinics are nowhere close to each other! So much of what we do in Kendall County revolves around demand for services in widely separated locations. It makes it hard to cluster rides together, which drives up the per-trip cost and creates less flexibility in what we can offer to our ridership.
- What’s a typical day like
This is the part when I say “there is no typical day”, right? Usually it involves reviewing operational challenges with staff, attending community meetings, interfacing with county, Illinois Department of Transportation and Regional Transportation Authority officials, and typing responses to questions like “What does a typical day look like”.
- What’s your proudest achievement?
Keeping the doors open! Slow payments pushed us close to the brink late last year, but I was very proud of the efficiencies my staff developed to keep the doors open. Interestingly, despite cutting back on the number of available vehicles we operated during the day, we still managed to increase our ridership numbers by focusing on efficient routing.
- What motivates you?
I am motivated by pride in what we do. When I say “we”, I mean what all of us in the public transportation field do on a daily basis to provide needed services to those around us. What we do is not glamorous, but it is a vital, if unsung, service. I got in this line of work because I wanted to be part of the solution for helping those in need. I think it is fair to say most everyone in this line of work feels the same way.
- What do you do to motivate your staff?
Working with the staff at KAT and VAC has been blessedly simple, which is a testament to the strength of organization. The crew here is highly motivated to work as a team to offer the best service they can for our riders. What I try to do is show graciousness for their hard work and provide the support they need to accomplish their job.
- What innovations have occurred since you began in transit?
In the time I have been involved in this field, I have watched rural transit change from ride requests being recorded in a simple calendar book to a much more technological process where trips are scheduled through Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and pushed out to drivers using tablet computers. That change represents a major cultural shift where rural transit systems are much more open and accessible to the community than ever before.
- How has your system grown, and why?
I think Kendall Area Transit has grown in a way that is typical to other non-urbanized transit programs. We started small with four drivers and a couple of office staff, but as the word about KAT got out, the program grew rapidly, which demanded we add more staff, bring on more vehicles, and expand the physical space in which we are located.
Additionally, we have had to start thinking a lot more regionally. Being located on the edge of the Chicago area means we have a lot of demand for trip linkages, but challenges remain in trying to get riders across certain village, township, and county lines. KAT has been getting more involved with the RTA and 5310 transportation providers in the metro region in order to help surmount some of these barriers.
Craig Farnam has been the assistant transportation director at Logan Mason Public Transportation since September 2016. Craig has always lived in central Illinois and attended Illinois State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. He has two daughters, ages 12 and 8. Craig loves being a dad and enjoys watching his daughters participate in their activities.
Beth Marts is the Effingham County Public Transportation (ECPT) program manager, working at C.E.F.S. Economic Opportunity Corporation, the operator for the transit system. Beth assists in the day-to-day management, leadership and operation of ECPT.
Beth has been employed with C.E.F.S. for ten years, serving as Shelby County Housing Coordinator for nine years. She is proud of her time in outreach, especially developing strong community partnerships and assisting in the relocation of the office to improve visibility and accessibility to their customers.
She says, “I have witnessed ECPT grow fivefold. The program is one I strongly believe in. We provide transportation to any demographic or income level and help increase independence for those that lack transportation.”
Prior to coming to C.E.F.S., Beth obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Millikin University, and had worked a variety of jobs including substitute teaching. Her hobbies include spending time with her family, serving as a volunteer transporter and transport monitor for numerous canine rescue organizations, and participating in competitive archery.
Ryan Robertson began his career with Kreider Services during July 2016. He recently was promoted when Kevin Carr (who was a former Rural Transit Assistance Program Advisory Council member) retired, and is the manager of building, grounds and transportation, which he finds very rewarding. Ryan previously was an electrician for Etnyer in Oregon, Illinois. For fun Ryan enjoys water sports and golf, and he loves Thai food. Ryan is married, and he and his wife have four daughters.
Fifteenth Annual Illinois Paratransit Roadeo
Do. Or do not. There is no try. (A reminder to commit oneself to something completely, win or lose.)
~Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
We congratulate each participant on their individual performance.
Of the 14 contestants and five transportation agencies represented, four (denoted by *) were first time participants:
Central Illinois Public Transportation: Angie Pride, *Jessica Rabideau
Futures Unlimited: Dan Faust, Nancy Lefler, Jim Sporrer
Piatt County Public Transportation: *Jenney Fikan, Tim Gadbury, *Byron Hibbs, *Rick May
Rides Mass Transit District: Eddie Beavers, Jill Lyons, Mitchell Phinney
South Central Mass Transit District: Ken Karbach, Jeanne Middleton
Overall (scores from all categories combined) Winners:
First Place: Jill Lyons
Second Place: Dan Faust
Third Place: Ken Karbach
Novice Award: Byron Hibbs
Driving: Dan Faust
Pre-Trip Inspection: Jill Lyons
Wheelchair Securement: Jill Lyons
Written Test: Jill Lyons
We would be honored if you would join us.
~Darth Vadar, The Empire Strikes Back
Many thanks to our honorable volunteers:
Friday set-up: Randy Barrow, JD Hodge, Sara Nollman-Hodge, Jeff Stark, Edward Heflin, and Jacqueline Waters
Roadeo marshall: Edward Heflin
Event judges, participant placement, and scoresheet collector: Randy Barrow, Eileen Sierra-Brown, Drew Dunham, Kimmy Fikan, Erin Fischer, Ian Fischer, Edward Heflin, JD Hodge, Sara Nollman-Hodge, Bill Jung, Debra King, Kayce Phinney, Nelson Pruitt, Norm Smith, Jeff Stark, Jacqueline Waters
Score keepers extraordinaire: Mable Kreps, and Bert Weber
Wheelchair occupant: Adam Middleton
Award presenter: Edward Heflin
Sponsors: Tom Boldwin, Midwest Transit (prize money), and IDOT-OIPI (trip for first place overall winner to participate in the CTAA National Roadeo)