Joel Volinski worked as the Director of Broward County Transit from 1983 to 1993, and then as the Director of the National Center for Transit Research at USF from 1994 to his retirement in 2017. During his 35 years in the transit industry, Joel made a number of meaningful and lasting accomplishments and contributions to public transportation in Florida and the nation. As a new director with no previous experience in the field of public transit, he saw the need to change the culture at Broward County Transit, the second largest transit agency in Florida, from that of a paramilitary operations oriented agency to one that focused on customer service and appreciation of the work done by its 800 employees. In addition to overseeing the construction of one new operations facility, the rehabilitation of another, and a new downtown transfer center, he implemented numerous service changes to streamline and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the transit system. Of particular note, he created, from scratch, the “Community Bus” program in 1991 through which Broward County entered into interlocal agreements with cities whereby the county provided minibuses, technical assistance, and partial funding to enable cities to provide highly customized and free service in their communities and allowed the county’s route system to become streamlined and more attractive. These agreements reduced the cost of providing transit in those cities by 80% while offering a service that served as a feeder to and from the County’s system resulting in increased ridership and faster travel times for the county transit system. Twenty-five years later, over 40 cities in south Florida provide this kind of service with great success, carrying over 3 million passengers per year thanks to the creation of the Community Bus program. Broward County Transit increased its ridership by 120% during Joel’s 11 years as Director, in spite of the population increasingly only 10% during that time and service hours increasing by only 35%. This record is unmatched before or since by any other comparable transit agency in Florida or the U.S.
In addition to being a pioneer and innovator at Broward County Transit, Joel made multiple contributions to the Florida Public Transportation Association that continue to resonate. He served a record 35 consecutive years on the Florida Public Transportation Association (FPTA) Board of Directors, serving in all four officer positions from 1985 – 1988, and was President when the association was successful in getting the first operating assistance for local transit agencies from the Florida Legislature in 1988. While president, he created, from scratch, the FPTA Professional Development Workshop that now trains over 300 participants each year and championed the concept of free registration which continues today so that middle managers can attend and enhance their skills. Joel researched and recommended how to establish the Hall of Fame for FPTA as it exists now, and nominated 11 of its first 16 members. He also volunteered and served as the program developer for the FPTA Annual Meetings and Professional Development Workshops from 1999 to 2002 in a way that professionalized the programs offered each year and which continue to improve each year as the best of its kind in the nation.
Joel aggressively pursued and was successful in establishing the only federally-funded University Transportation Center program in the nation dedicated to researching public transportation issues. The National Center for Transit Research (NCTR) produced over 200 reports on how to make public transit more efficient, safe, and attractive; the Center also managed listservs with over 10,000 participants in the transit community, presented over 100 transit-focused webinars, made more than 600 presentations at transportation conferences, and graduated over a dozen students who have gone on to serve the transit community as transit directors, planners, consultants, and staff of the Federal Transit Administration. While Director of the National Center for Transit Research, he also served as Editor of the Journal of Public Transportation, the only academic peer-reviewed journal in the country that focuses on public transportation issues, whose articles are downloaded more than 80,000 times per year. In addition, Joel realized the importance of attracting new people to the field of public transit and managed the development of the “Careers in Transit” DVD that has been downloaded over 23,000 times and encourages young people to consider choosing transit as a career. He was an active researcher, authoring a half dozen reports funded by NCTR dealing with subjects ranging from making transit facilities community assets, fostering creativity at transit agencies, finding hundreds of ways for transit agencies to either save money or make new non-traditional revenue, improving the speed of bus service, best practices in providing downtown circulators, and redefining the role of the bus transit supervisor. He also authored five Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) reports on subjects ranging from attracting and retaining employees, the implementation and outcomes of fare-free systems, dealing with disruptive passengers, and how to establish general on-demand response transit services.
In addition to his frequent contributions to Florida’s transit systems, Joel was very active at the national level. He served as a member of the TCRP Problem Screening Committee for 17 years, helping to identify the projects to be funded by the TCRP program and shaping the national research agenda for public transit. He was honored to be selected as a TCRP Transit Ambassador Emeritus in which he attended 15 different state transit association meetings to share the results of the TCRP program in the state and nation. Joel personally made over 100 presentations to share the results of transit research at professional transportation conferences, including APTA, CUTA, TRB, APA, and state transit associations’ conferences. He was a member of the first Leadership APTA class and President of its Alumni Association, and a member of numerous APTA and TRB committees over the years. Respected by his peers in academia as well, he was elected to all of the officer positions of the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC), including President in 2016 during which time he increased membership by 10% and turned a budget deficit into a healthy surplus. He also was elected by the directors of university transportation centers throughout the country to be the Chair of the Research, Education, and Training Reauthorization Coalition (RETRC) that serves as the advocacy arm to gain Congressional support for continued funding of university transportation research, increasing membership from 6 to 29 universities, at a critical time during the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation act. The UTC program was approved for additional funding from Congress under his leadership.
Joel’s dedication and leadership in transit over 35 years will continue to benefit passengers, employees, transit agencies, and the FPTA for years to come.