Volk steps down as MTD chief, will work part-time
CHAMPAIGN — After 40 years as director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Bill Volk stepped down on Monday.
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But he's not going away. He'll work on a part-time hourly basis on a number of ongoing MTD projects, including a potential development in downtown Urbana, expansion of the Illinois Terminal, a new governance plan for Willard Airport and possible work related to a new Champaign Central High School.
"He'll be paid 10 dollars an hour," said Volk's successor, Karl Gnadt. "We're getting him pretty cheap. So the rumors of large payments are just that — rumors."
Volk is limited by Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund regulations to 600 hours of work per year. He will be getting an IMRF pension of about $210,000 annually.
On Monday, the MTD held an open house to recognize Volk's 40 years as head of the transit district.
When he came to Champaign-Urbana in 1974, he took over a troubled system with 23 buses (most of which were only 3 years old), 30 full-time drivers, no other administrative help and an annual ridership of about 700,000. In the fiscal year that ended Monday, the MTD carried more than 13.2 million passengers.
The MTD's headquarters was in a cramped building at Fifth and Washington streets in north Champaign. It had been built in the late 1930s for National City Lines.
"What I was nervous about — and you have to understand that I was 25 years old — was how would I keep a secretary busy?" joked Volk, who was appointed MTD director after serving two years at a transit system in Fort Wayne, Ind. "I remember the roof leaked and I put a garbage can on my desk. But one of the best things that (MTD) board did was to not buy that property."
A year after he arrived, the MTD moved to a new garage on the east side of Urbana, a move that had been determined by Volk's predecessor, a man who lasted in his job for about eight months.
"I decided I was only going to be here for four years, so there was no point in me fighting about it. In retrospect, that's been a good site for us," said Volk, who started at the MTD at a salary of $13,000. "It's a great campus there and we're in good shape for facilities for many years."
Roger Haughey was chairman of the MTD board when Volk was hired in 1974. Volk had finished second a year earlier when James Mansbridge was brought in, briefly, to run the system.
"(Haughey) actually helped us unload our furniture from a U-Haul," Volk recalled. "He had actually managed the system for a couple of months because there was no one else. Mansbridge left in early December and I didn't come until late January. So Roger had to sign checks and do all kinds of stuff. So in addition to him helping us unpack, his wife helped Sandy (Volk's wife) make our beds. Then they invited us over for lunch on Sunday. And his son said to me, 'Why in the world would you take a job like this?'"
Mansbridge left after a controversial grid system he installed was deemed a failure.
"Every day on 'Penny for Your Thoughts' there were complaints about the thing," Volk recalled.
Volk said he had a plan to make the MTD successful but it depended on money.
"It was mostly operational things, just to make the system run on time. We didn't have any radios. There was no communication in the buses," he said. "The bus drivers smoked. There was no supervision on the street. Nobody was checking to see if the buses were on time. It was just a lot of basic stuff that we had to do to improve our on-time performance and the way that people treated the public."
Volk said there was a time when he thought the system would go bankrupt.
"I was not the most astute accounting student. I had started in January and I figured that we would run out of money in September," he said, "Fortunately, there was legislation in Springfield to bail out the CTA and we got a little bit of that."
In 1977, voters — a healthy number of whom were UI students — approved a tax increase that quadrupled the MTD's property tax revenue.
"After that, we were set," he said.
Volk said Monday that he's most proud of the MTD employees.
"I think the fact that our employees have had faith in us and we've been able to maintain long tenures with folks and that there's a good concept of public service," he said. "Last winter, during the bad weather, we had people who were willing to stay overnight here (at the Illinois Terminal) and at our garage and offices. Some people bunked with other employees or rented hotel rooms so they could be here in the morning because they knew there would be a storm. But we were operating the next day.
"There's a good sense of public service that's pretty well ingrained in the organization."