2020 40 Under 40: Marcus Cox

Aug. 18, 2020
Marcus Cox, Transit Manager, City of DeKalb
  • One word to describe yourself: Motivated
  • Alma Mater: Northern Illinois University
  • Favorite Hobby(s): I have two saltwater aquariums that take up more time than I care to admit.  When I’m not cleaning the tanks, I enjoy taking aerial photographs with my drone.
  • Fun fact about yourself: I’m a PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) certified open water scuba diver. I always wanted to be a marine biologist, but transit had other plans for me.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent and why: For nostalgic purposes, I have to say that my favorite stop (and station) is the Holmes Student Center at Northern Illinois University.  The Holmes Student Center is a central location on campus that doubles as the starting and ending location for most all campus routes.  I have a lot of great memories associated with my transit career that took place there.

For Marcus Cox, a college job search that led him to call a “Now Hiring” poster he saw while riding a bus to class, has resulted in a 12-year (and counting) career in transit.

Since his first role at NIU’s Huskie Line as a bus operator, Cox has advanced through the industry, adding new knowledge to his skill set in operations, administration, safety and training, risk mitigation and maintenance. He left Huskie Line to join Waukesha Metro Transit in Waukesha, Wisc., before returning to Huskie Line and then joining the City of DeKalb in 2018.

The city and NIU first evaluated consolidation of transit services into a single system in 2015 and that vision was delivered within the first 13 months of Cox’s leadership. Cox also expanded transit service to meet city needs year round, maximized the federal and state grants available, expanded service to the southern part of Dekalb to take residents and students to areas of employment and implemented a daily shuttle service between DeKalb and Metra’s Elburn rail station, which provided access to the greater Chicagoland area for shopping, medical appointments and additional entertainment options.

Cox believes that a good public transit service cannot remain stagnant and plateau. He is continuously analyzing routes, schedules and overall service to ensure they meet and exceed the expectations of the passengers. Cox’s ultimate goal is to continue to develop a user-friendly system that is split evenly between people who need to use it and people who have a choice and desire to use transit.

Outside of his professional role, Cox is a contracted trainer for the Rural Transit Assistance Center (RTAC) where he teaches defensive driving, emergency evacuation procedures and passenger assistance classes for rural transit agencies within Illinois. He also serves on the Illinois Public Transportation Association Board of Directors.

Is there a specific experience that led you where you are today? 

I grew up in a very small town that did not have traffic signals let alone public transportation.  When I transferred to Northern Illinois University (NIU), I had almost zero experience ever using public transit.  As luck would have it, on my first day of class at NIU, I had to take the Route 4L from the residence halls to the Psychology Building on the east side of campus. As I enjoyed the campus scenery out the window, I noticed the “Now Hiring” sign posted inside the bus.  I called the phone number and 12 years later, here we are!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy educating others about how public transportation works.  I recall reading that the number one reason that people do not use public transportation is because they don’t understand how it works, and this resonates with me.  I started using the transit system at NIU because I needed to get to class, but without a reason, I would have most likely found an alternative method of travel.  If we can educate people about our system and the benefits associated with it, then we can ensure that all members of our community take advantage of our systems.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

All jobs have their challenges; it’s how you handle those challenges that makes the difference.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

There isn’t an accomplishment in my transit career that I’m most proud of simply for the fact that I’m thankful and appreciative of everything that has led me to today.  I didn’t pursue a career as a bus operator because I wanted to be the Transit Manager for the City of DeKalb, but rather I’ve been fortunate to have guidance and support from others along the way that have helped and allowed me to reach this point.  If anything, I’m most proud to be so deeply involved within the community that gave me my first opportunity in transit.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Your system is the only system in the world like it. The sky's the limit! Don’t fall prey to the old adage ‘that’s the way we have always done things.’  Be open, be optimistic, and always keep your big picture goals in mind.