MetroLINK chief reflects on national transportation role

Jeff Nelson
Jeff Nelson

“Leave the world a better place than you found it” is more than a life principle. After a two-year pandemic that exposed or accelerated societal, environmental and economic challenges, the adage has become a moral obligation for anyone in a leadership position.

As the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) chair for the past 20 months, I have had the opportunity to make this both my own personal mantra and an aspirational goal for the public transportation industry.

The APTA is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector organizations which represent a $74 billion industry that directly employs 435,000 people and supports millions of private sector jobs.

During my time as its chair, APTA worked to secure historic funding levels with the enactment of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will deliver more $108 billion for public transit and more than $102 billion for rail over the next five years. These critical investments will build our economy by prioritizing equity, health, job creation and climate action.

While I worked to advocate for public transportation in Washington, I had the opportunity to sit down with Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the impact this critical funding will have on communities across the nation. Secretary Buttigieg’s passion for transportation was made clear when he stated “this funding will have the power to make life more affordable, reduce inequities, and protect again climate change.” It was an honor to talk with him one-on-one about the future of public transportation in our country.

In Berlin, I attended InnoTrans, the world’s leading trade fair for transport technology and Mobility where 140,000 international attendees from 131 countries gathered to exchange ideas and view the latest and greatest advancements in modern transportation. As APTA chair, I represented the United States in discussions surrounding sustainable mobility and transportation’s impact on climate change.

One of the roles I enjoyed most was having an opportunity to see the remarkable advances being made by public transit agencies across the country. Here at home, my own state’s Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan is helping to create a variety of modern mobility options. With the help of our state and federal partners, MetroLINK is working to deliver what the public expects today. We have implemented a fully 100% eco-friendly fleet through battery electric and compressed natural gas buses for a cleaner QC.

As proud as I am of my own agency, these kinds of public transportation investments are occurring in large and small, urban and rural communities. The public transit industry has a collective commitment to “service above self.” Because of that, we will continue to make a remarkable difference in our communities. This is a legacy of which I feel privileged to have been a part.

Jeff Nelson is CEO Managing Director of MetroLINK. He can be reached at [email protected] or (309) 786-2705.

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