Top 40 Under 40 2017: Mac DeBusk

Sept. 15, 2017
Mac DeBusk, Intelligent Transportation Systems Specialist, District Three Governmental Cooperative DBA District Three Public Transit
  • One word to describe yourself: Inquisitive
  • Alma Mater: Virginia Tech
  • Favorite book: “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt. After reading it, he’s still not a “late merger.”
  • Favorite TV show:  “MythBusters”
  • Favorite movie: “Star Wars” All of it.
  • Favorite hobby(ies): Amateur radio
  • Fun fact about yourself: He once got himself locked in the stairwell of a skyscraper 70 floors up and after walking the entire 70 floors down to the ground, had to go through an emergency exit door and set off the alarm getting out.
  • What is your favorite transit system (outside of the one you work for or have worked for!) and why?: Metro Transit in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They’re equipment seems to be clean and their service got him everywhere he needed to go.

What began as a part-time job for a cash-strapped college student turned into a rewarding career for Mac DeBusk. In addition to his service in the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Tech student worked as driver and dispatcher for Blacksburg Transit to make ends meet. In 2004 his college studies and transit job were disrupted when his unit was deployed to Afghanistan for a year. After serving his country, DeBusk returned to both Virginia Tech and Blacksburg Transit.

DeBusk was the dispatcher on duty the fateful morning of April 16, 2007, when a student unleashed the most deadly campus shooting in history. His favorite quote, from Thomas Jefferson, served him well that day: "Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."

In those moments, chaos interrupted the routine Monday morning routes and DeBusk kept his cool when details were sketchy and injured students appeared on buses. Unable to communicate with understandably frazzled 911 dispatchers, he instructed a bus to transport some students with minor injuries to the local hospital, and directed other buses to evacuate the campus in order to best preserve the health and safety of his drivers and the passengers on board.

Once his studies were complete in 2008, he and his wife, a fellow Virginia Tech alum, moved back to his hometown and purchased the family farm.

The local agency, District Three Public Transit, was very different from the small urban Blacksburg Transit, but DeBusk quickly found his niche and began working to make improvements to the system wherever he saw the opportunity. He was hired at District Three as a mobility coordinator and started by designing and marketing a new series of routes funded under FTA 5317 that provided transportation for passengers in his rural area to medical facilities located outside the district. He also spearheaded improvements to the transit division’s webpage and worked to apply technology in ways that made the day-to-day administration of the agency more efficient. 

DeBusk quickly made the step up to operations manager and continued to push improvements by expanding new driver training and leading presentations to help veteran drivers identify and correct issues that had led to accidents. He also headed a large scale procurement effort to have surveillance cameras installed in District Three’s buses and was instrumental in both the procurement and design of a much improved radio system that enabled the consolidation of the agency’s remote dispatch offices into a single room and improved communications throughout the district.

He also found time to serve on the board of directors of the Community Transportation Association of Virginia and was relied upon to draft a letter that delicately stated the association’s views on new regulation without jeopardizing its positive relationship with the Commonwealth’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

With the birth of his daughter in 2013, Mac took on the role of intelligent transportation systems specialist. Now he serves as the agency’s internal expert in matters of technology and communication. He also enjoys leading classroom training for drivers and assisting the division director with the annual grant requests, and miscellaneous reports.

“I really enjoy driving; it got me started. As I moved up, I found things that stuck with my interest.”

“When you stand in a classroom telling people how to do their job, if you can actually tell them, I’ve done this … and bring those experiential stories to the classroom, it gives you more credibility with your students.”