Four years. That was how long Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) Managing Director Bill Volk and his wife were expecting to stay in the area before he would move on to a different location. It’s been a little more than that, that he’s been at MTD … like more than 30 years.
After talking to him and other staff for a day at MTD, it seems a pretty common thread that once you come to MTD, you don’t want to leave. That would lead in to one of the challenges that they are currently looking at: a senior workforce looking to retirement.
One of those in that group, Dave Moore, director of maintenance, laughs, “At more than 30 years, I’m the ‘new guy.’ And they let me know that.”
Volk says, “At this point, we have some of the people talking about the grey hairs getting out and the people who are talking about retiring are mostly department heads.” Matter-of-factly he adds, “In many cases the whole concept [succession planning] is overblown and this has been going on forever. People have been leaving and dying and retiring so in our case, we’re going to have a number of people leaving at the same time.”
With Volk’s contract ending June 30, 2014, and a number of other people most likely going at that time, he says they have a pretty good idea of who could be moved into which positions and that there will be more than enough time for people to continue to do the training that’s necessary to bring them up to speed. He makes it sound pretty simple, but it took laying a foundation, building the culture core values and utilizing a management system that enforces documentation so that the next generation is more than capable of continuing to operate the system at the same level.
A Start in Transit
Volk’s first experience with buses was when he worked for Greyhound while in high school. Then when he went to Indiana University, the business school had a concentration in transportation.
“At that point 25 percent of the GDP was in transportation, so I figured there must be a lot of jobs.”
He had a course with George Smerk and he was hooked. Since he decided transit was what he was going to do, he figured he should get experience so he went to work at the campus bus system cleaning buses. “And I was an absolutely terrible employee,” he says. “They should have fired me; I don’t know why I wasn’t.”
The next semester he started driving and then he got a job as an intern, and eventually as a supervisor at Fort Wayne. After a year there, he applied for the MTD position. “And I didn’t get it,” he says. “And it’s a good thing I didn’t.”
The next year there was route cutting and he was working through that problem, which was a valuable experience.
Volk and MTD were our cover story in June 2002 and the article is on www.MassTransitmag.com. You can read more about the strategic planning they were doing at the time, how MTD first started its partnership with the university and more details on the decertification of the union.
There’s a lot of interesting information in the previous article that I won’t repeat here, as this trip was to focus on what MTD has done to be more sustainable: as an organization and for the environment.
MTD recently went through Virginia Tech’s Center for Organizational and Technological Advancement’s (COTA) Environmental Management System (EMS) Implementation Institute. COTA explains an environmental management system as a set of management processes and procedures that allow an organization to analyze, control and reduce the environmental impact of its activities, products and services and operate with greater efficiency and control.
Virginia Tech offers an Environmental & Sustainability Management System transit training using the ISO 14001 standard. Director of Market Development Karl Gnadt at MTD explains it’s an intensive program. “We went out to Roanoke four times, there were four week-long classes.”