By Katelyn Weisbrod
Even the best bus runs out of fuel.
Dave Ricketts, who has been with the University of Iowa Parking and Transportation Department for 43 years, is hanging up the reins as the department’s director.
Today, which is Ricketts’ last day, every Cambus will rotate its route sign between route information and “Thank you, Dave, for 43 years.”
The Daily Iowan: Can you tell us about what your roles were before now?
Dave Ricketts: Sure, that’s the easy question. Well, my title is the director of Parking and Transportation — the department includes Cambus, the parking system, and the university fleet. The 34-bus fleet has been around since 1972 and has 170 employees, [who are] mostly students.
DI: You’ve been here for 43 years. Since that time, as you started as a driver for Cambus, what are some of the big things that have changed in terms of transportation on campus?
Ricketts: Subtract 60 of the major buildings, and imagine there were roads in places you wouldn’t dream there were roads, and there are roads now that used to be buildings — so a lot of structural changes. So dramatic physical change, and enrollment is much larger now. Also, the hospital is a complete game changer for a campus — you come to a campus with a hospital, and that is the center of the Parking and Transportation universe, not the Pentacrest.
DI: So why did you choose to stick with it for 43 years?
Ricketts: I didn’t choose to come here and stay — it’s really fascinating work. A university campus is a very interesting place to work. Partly because of [students] and the constant change, and you generally work with pretty intelligent people. It’s also a research institution — if you have a job like mine, over time, you get to know people. You get to know people and what they do, and if you don’t have any concept of the research enterprise, it’s fascinating. It’s stunning what people do.
DI: What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered?
Ricketts: When I gave my talk yesterday I used this example — it’s going to seem like ancient history, but I’ll just give you one example to make a story. Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, up until ’87 or ’88, was a parking lot. So one of my first roles in parking was to deal with the loss of a very large parking lot. [The UI] wanted to put a building there, and we couldn’t afford to lose the parking, so we ended up taking out that parking lot and building the [Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories]. Imagine something like that happening 60 times; people have been parking somewhere for years, and they get used to it, and then everything changes. And then you have the social change as well — people drive more, they drive less; gas prices go up, they go down.
DI: What are you going to miss?
Ricketts: You get to a point in my position where you might be creating some concepts, but you spend a lot of your energy sustaining so people don’t make the same mistakes. There are all kinds of “in the moment” solutions; let’s say your battery goes dead in your car, but you’re smart, and you’ve got a set of jumper cables. Every time the car won’t start, you know how to get someone to help you jump the car. Well that’s fine, but shouldn’t you replace the battery? There’s a lot of stuff like that, where people are good workers, and they go out, and they fix, but they’re not keeping track of that data. I’m not the expert in that anymore — you sort of come up that way, because you knew something very specific, but after a while, everyone you hire can do that job better than you can.