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Meet Stephen E. Schlickman!

Meet Stephen E. Schlickman
Urban Transportation Center
University of Illinois at Chicago 

Member, Legislative, Sustainability, Public-Private Partnerships, and Human Resources committees; member, Higher Education Subcommittee 

Please describe your organization’s scope. The Urban Transportation Center (UTC) is a research center at the University of ­Illinois at Chicago. UTC is part of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs and one of the top 10 research centers at the entire university. UTC conducts research, supports education and provides technical help on urban transportation planning, policy, operations and management. We do sponsored research on topics that run the gamut—planning to finance, data analysis, ridership studies—all aimed at emphasizing the immediate impact of good research on some of the industry’s urgent challenges. Sponsored research means that organizations hire us or we get grants to conduct this work.

What drew you to a career in the public transportation industry?
I’ve been at the center since 2010, and I’ve been engaged in transit for more than 35 years. My last job was running the Chicago Regional Transportation ­Authority (RTA). When I graduated from Georgetown University, jobs were scarce so I took a job driving a bus for the university—the Georgetown University ­Transportation Shuttle—GUTS, one of Washington, DC’s best acronyms, according to ­Washingtonian magazine!

It was a student operated system, and I quickly moved on to a management role. I also had a ­summer job working in the Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation. I took a few years off to go to law school. After I graduated, I realized I wanted to get back into transit. I was able to combine my undergraduate education, experience driving a bus, time in the secretary’s office and law degree in ways that really meshed with that goal. I found my dream job setting up a legislative office for the Chicago Transit Authority here in Chicago. (I’m a Chicago native.) I’ve been involved with public transit in one way or another ever since.

Please note what’s rewarding about your involvement with APTA.
I’ve been involved in APTA almost every year of my career. I consider myself a “career member.” I think that public transit professionals have to be involved with APTA. It provides an important forum for us to help determine national strategies. Plus, APTA is not a “vanilla organization,” where everyone is the same. Public transit organizations come in all types of modes, different sizes and with varying missions. APTA gives us the opportunity to meet with people in similar organizational ­situations. This kind of exposure and networking has enabled me to develop my professional network of peers and colleagues in such “legacy cities” as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and others. APTA is so important in helping to aggregate similar systems while keeping all of us working together for the good of the entire industry.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource?
In addition to the peer-to-peer connections I mentioned, I’ve also been a longtime member of the Legislative Committee. Because the focus of my career is on helping find funding and financing for public transit—among other challenges—being involved with the Legislative Committee and its robust approaches to issues has been invaluable. In addition, as a result of my APTA connections, I helped create a number of independent national coalitions of public transit systems organized around their unique characteristics or issues. In those cases, I always felt we needed to keep ­ourselves under the APTA umbrella so we were connected to the broader industry and contributing to it.

What do you like most about your career?
Being able to apply my educational background and training—from my under-graduate work to my law degree—and combining all these areas together makes me more effective in an industry I thoroughly enjoy. Growing up, I had no idea I would be in this field. But once you get engaged, it really grows on you. Even after I retire, I’ll still be involved in the industry in some manner as a way to stay engaged and be a contributor.

What would readers be surprised to learn about your organization?

The center is not just focused on research. It has a goal of contributing to student education. In virtually every research project we do, we employ at least one student as a research assistant. Many go on to work in public transit. The professional ranks of Chicago area transit agencies in particular include many of our students and many have moved on to prominent positions in the industry.
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