Top 40 Under 40 2013: Joshua Baker

Joshua Baker has been a part of New River Valley Community Services since 2004 and in that time he has taken the agency’s transportation services to the highest level they have ever been since the inception of the program. He also participates on numerous boards and regularly participates in industry events, including Certified Community Transit Manager (CCTM), the Community Transportation Association of America; board member of the Community Transportation Association of Virginia; active member of the Virginia Transit Association; and participates annually in local and statewide drivers roadeo planning, organization and development.

Baker led the establishment of the Radford Transit System in Radford, Va. This service started in August 2011 due in large part to the hard work of him and the local city/university stakeholders. Ever since “pitching” the idea to local government officials as early as 2008 and seeing the need for such a service in the city of Radford and for the Radford University population, Baker took his ideas and turned them into reality by working with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration. He worked with a locally appointed exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of transit in the area and was able to help secure 100 percent state funding for a feasibility study which was conducted and supported the establishment of the system.

Over the course of the next two years, Baker worked with local officials helping to guide them through the process of establishing the system. When it came time to select an operator, he led the way in responding to the Request for Proposals of a vendor to operate the system. Having already established a reputation as one of the best and most effective human service transportation providers in the region, the group tasked with selecting the provider had an easy choice selecting New River Valley Community Services. This was unique in itself as never in the history of Virginia had a community service board such as NRVCS operated such an encompassing and broad reaching transportation unit.

To date, Baker has seen his work and success not only in the core services of human service transportation but also in the statewide recognized Radford Transit System. As a result of his team leadership, Radford Transit has seen some of the highest ridership growth in the recent history of a new system in Virginia. In just its second year of operation the system has seen a 76 percent increase in ridership carrying more than 325,000 passenger trips in a city with a population of just 16,408.

“I landed in public transportation almost by accident. As a student at Virginia Tech I joined many of the folks in my freshman class riding the Blacksburg Transit bus to and from my various on and off campus activities. Early on I noticed a posting advertising for drivers and thought to myself, ‘That sounds like a scary job, but would be awesome to learn how to do!’

“I pulled together the nerve and applied, got the job and fell in love with it. Throughout my entire college career I worked in various functions within the organization gaining useful knowledge and insight into the transportation industry. I met a lot of great people and really learned what it takes to operate a successful transportation system.

“Shortly after graduating from school I landed my first job with New River Valley Community Services as its transportation manager. The folks I worked for then and now provided me great opportunity and stood behind me in my visions as we grew our human service transportation and eventually started Radford Transit.

“I think the thing I like most about public transit is how dynamic it is. Every day you encounter something new; each day brings its own challenges and not one is like the other. The people who work in the field are passionate about what they do and really understand what a critical infrastructure component our services are. I’ve always said there is something about us “bus geeks” … they aren’t just somebody who sees a bus driving down the street, or who rides the bus every day — they are all of us in the transportation industry who know not only that (the bus) is there but what it takes to run it, what model it is, how many years it has probably been on the road, and most importantly, how many people it serves.

“This might sound like an odd example, but these are the people who know and understand how much of an impact that one vehicle is making in the lives of so many people. That’s what makes it so important. It’s not just about the bus but it’s about the people – a focus I believe is needed in every industry”

“Public transportation has a great future. It’s all about efficiency and effectiveness. We are driven by the people, the needs of the people and the desires of the people. This function, this driving force, is one that can’t be squished or diminished by politics or rhetoric it’s one that has strength not only in the numbers but in the purpose.

“Those who work in the industry know what it means to those we serve and I think that in itself drives the innovation and development of service. Just because a locality or public entity decides to embrace or refute the importance of public transportation, it carries little meaning to the individuals working in the field. The people who are working to develop transit don’t see barriers, they see challenges. This challenge drives them to work harder, to be more involved and ultimately to work as best as we can with our constituents/stakeholders in order to make the case or meet the need for our services.

“I have been very fortunate working with the localities I have and the university administration we partner with. The foresight and embrace they have had for our system and services is one I can only hope others may learn from. Starting a transit system, or maintaining an existing one, is about teamwork. Having that teamwork not only in the bus operators, administration and maintenance within the organization is critical, but also having that same teamwork with the community, the riders and the local, regional, statewide, and federal stakeholders. The future is what we make of it and with everything that is going on throughout our country related to transportation I think the future is very bright.”