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IU’s transportation liaison Kent McDaniel will retire after almost 40 years in public transportation

July 13, 2016

When he fell into his first job for IU as a Campus Bus driver, Kent McDaniel was earning his Master of Public Administration at IU from 1974 to 1977. He will retire as IU’s transportation liaison and demand manager after working with buses and public transportation issues all over the state for almost 40 years.

kent mcdaniel

Besides being behind the steering wheel of a Campus Bus, he also provided training and consultation to transit operators around the country through the Institute for Urban Transportation. | PHOTO COURTESY OF KENT McDANIEL

Besides being behind the steering wheel of a campus bus as a young graduate student, he's since provided training and consultation to transit operators around the country through the Institute for Urban Transportation. The institute was founded by George Smerk, a professor in the Kelley School of Business whose courses helped McDaniel find his niche in public transportation. When the institute closed, McDaniel went on to serve as assistant director and executive director of IU’s transportation services.

McDaniel has also represented the university within Bloomington and statewide through his involvement in the city’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and in the Indiana Transportation Association.

Having worked within the transportation sector for nearly four decades, McDaniel has seen a lot of changes and encountered a few surprises along the way.

In 1993, he worked with the Indiana Department of Transportation and organized people to lobby Congress for a $9.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The grant allowed Bloomington to build garage facilities on Grimes Lane that are still being used by Campus Bus and Bloomington Transit.

“That’s made a huge difference because the old facility that Campus Bus had didn’t have any lifts for lifting the vehicles for maintenance,” he said. “It didn’t have any pits for crawling underneath the vehicles. The office building was built in the 1880s, and it was an old stone quarry office.”

In addition to making construction of the Grimes Lane facilities possible, McDaniel dedicated several years to securing grant funding that allowed replacement of 27 of IU’s 40-foot buses, some of which are still in use.

As executive director of the Indiana Transportation Association, McDaniel led a successful effort that succeeded in getting a 20 percent increase in funding for public transportation in Indiana starting in 2007. 

“That increase meant an additional $7 million in funding for public transit every year. That didn’t do anything directly for IU but it was a very good deal for Indiana’s transit operators,” he said.

It’s his valuable knowledge and work within IU and outside the university that McDaniel’s colleagues know will be missed when he retires.

“I think Kent’s retirement will affect not only IU but the city and state as a whole,” said Julie Bauters, IU’s assistant vice provost for auxiliary business services. “His knowledge of the legislative process and transportation industry will be difficult to replace.”

One of the things McDaniel said he’ll miss when he leaves IU are his interactions with transit system general managers throughout the state to get funding for public transportation. He’ll also miss interacting with students. Getting to know IU’s student population was one of the joys of his job that McDaniel wasn’t expecting.

“I’ve met some pretty amazing students who are really intelligent, very hard working, and it’s just been really refreshing to get to know them,” he said.

During his tenure, McDaniel encouraged the IU Student Association in its efforts to make it free for students to ride both the Campus Bus and Bloomington Transit by showing a student ID.

He also got to know students who created Double Map, cellphone technology that tracks buses in real time and is now being used by IU, Bloomington Transit and other public transportation systems throughout the country.

But McDaniel’s work has made an impact beyond the bus systems.

“Kent was the key player when it came to turning alternative transportation ideas into action,” said Bill Brown, university director of sustainability. “His experience in writing requests for proposals and hiring consultants was critical to getting ZipCar car sharing and ZimRide ride sharing implemented on campus. He was also the point person for the Transportation Demand Management study and the Bicycle Master Plan.”

After nearly 40 years of figuring out how people can best get from point A to point B, McDaniel is now looking forward to focusing on his own transportation. He hopes to spend more time riding his bike. He also plans to get in some golfing and finish projects around his home.

He won’t be able to shake off his interest in transportation easily and plans to continue serving as a member of the Bloomington Transit board.

“I can’t imagine not being involved in public transportation,” McDaniel said. “I’ve been doing that my entire career.”

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