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Tolling Points

IBTTA Mourns the Passing of Neil Schuster

By: 
IBTTA

The tolling and transportation industries lost a beloved, gentle giant with the passing this week of Neil Schuster, IBTTA’s executive director from 1985 to 2001, from a rare genetic heart condition. He was 65.

“Neil was a gentleman,” recalls IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Pat Jones. “He was a kind, thoughtful, self-effacing leader of transportation associations. And he very quietly, effectively had a hand in many of the major innovations that are shaping surface transportation today.”

Following his tenure at IBTTA, Schuster served as executive director of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America from 2001 to 2007, then as president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) from 2007 to 2014.

In 2014, he was elected an Honorary Member of IBTTA, the highest honor the association can bestow on any individual. In his acceptance speech, Schuster said something that Jones never forgot: “I always believed ‘IBTTA’ stood for ‘I Belong To a Terrific Association.’”

In retirement, he and his wife Connie enjoyed travelling extensively to places like Alaska, Hawaii, and Norway.

All About the Members

Anyone who knew Neil Schuster remembers a leadership style that involved pushing others forward and helping them get the results they needed.

Government Affairs Director Neil Gray, who joined IBTTA during Schuster’s tenure, said that “Neil personified a mindset that an association’s purpose is to help and serve its members. He was a fine public speaker, but he genuinely preferred that others take the limelight.”

As an association director, Schuster was also “very good at managing both people and issues with a soft touch,” Gray recalls. “Expressing appreciation and concern for both staff and members, he was very aware of the complexities of juggling issues, jobs, and conflicting demands and managed it all without ever losing his temper or even appearing terribly distressed. This is a lesson I’m still trying to emulate.”

“He was soft-spoken, always just a real gentleman to everyone, and respected by everyone,” notes Hal Worrall, who served as IBTTA president in 2002. “I’m really going to miss him.”

Calm Leadership in Turbulent Times

Jones notes that Schuster led IBTTA during a period of rapid change in transportation systems and technologies.

“This was the dawn of the electronic toll collection era,” he says. “Neil shepherded the association through those early times, through the emergence of E-ZPass and other regions of interoperability. IBTTA meetings under Neil’s leadership, and the leadership of the presidents he served, were the forum for toll agencies to come together and first talk about electronic toll collection and interoperability. IBTTA was the convener, the forum, the place to grow new technologies and business relationships.”

Later, at the helm of ITS America, he helped to advance USDOT’s Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration (VII) Initiative, a long-ago precursor to what we now call connected and autonomous vehicles. Once again, Schuster was on the scene at a pivot point in the industry’s development, supporting and enabling his members to do and give their best.

Then he led AAMVA through the challenges of the 2008 recession, chairing a national study on a possible vehicle miles travelled (VMT) fee system and serving on at least two national highway safety committees, the association states in a memorial video.

“When Neil moved on from IBTTA, I felt a genuine jealousy for the folks who were receiving him, but also appreciated that their association would benefit a lot from his management,” Neil Gray recalls. “I know that he enjoyed the challenges of working with larger entities and issues, and he was also doing a good job of being ‘retired’ from work while still doing genuinely interesting things. I missed him then and now.”

Gray also looks back on the family feeling of the IBTTA office of the day, from the office dog to the team-style writing, editing, and envelope-stuffing sessions. “Neil also had a tremendous but low-key sense of humor, and condoned (if not cultivated) acts of pranksterism that can only make me grin to remember (but never admit to).”

Thank you, Neil. We miss you so much.

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