Statistics & News
Breaking mandate monotony
Driver provides humor during pandemic
One Fulton County Transit Authority driver is taking the COVID-19 mandates at work seriously while having a little fun with one of them in the process.
Jo Ann Smith Gardiner uses the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) provided by FCTA for her job, but Gardiner has chosen some unusual masks to protect her while driving one of the agency’s vehicles.
“With these mask mandates, all I hear out there is how we have lost our freedom because they make us wear them,” Gardiner said. “Everywhere you look, you see the blue or the handmade masks on people who follow the guidelines. We were out here looking alike in our masks, most were complaining, and nobody was laughing anymore.”
That’s when Gardiner decided to take matters into her own hands, well, face rather.
“One day I was on down time waiting on a client to finish with their appointment. I went in 5 Star (Food Mart) in Paducah and there, by the door, was this made-up, puckered lips mask. It was just calling out to me, so I bought it and put it on. Everyone I came in contact with really laughed and commented on that mask,” Gardiner explained. “I then posted it on Facebook and got even more comments. Not once did I hear ‘they are taking our freedoms.’ All I was hearing was laughter and good comments.”
Because of these reactions, Gardiner returned to the convenience store on another run to Paducah and purchased even more of the funny masks.
“I’ve been trying to wear a different one every day, posting my face all over Facebook, and having fun with the clients and everybody in the places I go in to,” Gardiner said. “I’ve not had one bad comment, but lots of laughs.”
Quickly admitting she isn’t making fun of the “horrible pandemic” in America, Gardiner says she’s just having a little fun within the process of it all.
“Laughter makes a bad situation a little easier to tolerate,” Gardiner explained.
Gardiner, who will mark her second anniversary at FCTA in October, said her coworkers have been supportive of her personal project.
“I’ve had them ask, ‘What kind of mask are we going to wear today?’ I tell them to stay tuned because I have plenty of them,” Gardiner said. “I have some of the best coworkers and their laughter makes it even more fun wearing the masks.”
Other motorists along the roadways where Gardiner carries clients “going and coming” their way have noticed her various masks as well.
“I’ve been getting lots of horn blows and waves so, all in all, it’s been great,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner has no plan to return to a plain mask anytime soon.
“I hope I don’t ever go back to just the plain mask,” Gardiner said. “I hope that as long as this mandate lasts, I will have enough masks.”
Although she’s not seeking mask donations, Gardiner said if any talented local artists want to create some unusual ones to add to her collection, though, she will gladly wear them.
So, what happens when wearing masks is no longer part of Gardiner’s workday?
“As much fun as we have been having, I may even miss my masks when they lift the mandate and I have to go back to no face clothing,” Gardiner said, laughing. “When they have to see my bare face again that could get boring because my face stays the same old face.”
Until then, Gardiner says to stay tuned and keep watching for new masks as she gets ready to roll every day.
FCTA Operations Manager Joy Johnson is one of the people enjoying Gardiner’s mask project.
“I love that Jo Ann has turned this pandemic into something positive,” Johnson said. “It is very refreshing to see how she’s spreading kindness and joy. I must admit I, too, tune in for the mask of the day! #teamtransit”
FCTA awarded grant funding
Two grants totaling almost half a million dollars will improve operations at Fulton County Transit Authority immensely.
FCTA received a $248,000 5339 Capital Grant for FY 21-22 to replace four cutaway 12/2 passenger vehicles.
“Replacing the four vehicles definitely helps keep our fleet operational,” explained FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton when announcing the grants. “We need to replace three to five cutaways a year to keep a healthy fleet.”
The new vehicles will be utilized in Fulton, Hickman, Graves and Carlisle counties, the areas where FCTA primarily and proudly serves.
The 5339 Capital Grant is 80% federally funded. Etherton stated that will the dissolution of the toll credit program, FCTA will have to produce 20% of the grant monies.
Gov. Andy Beshear recently announced the other funds awarded to FCTA through the CARES Act.
“We’re excited about the Governor’s announcement of $198,150 under capital funding in the CARES Act,” Etherton said. “This funding will update FCTA’s technology which will include a server, tablets and replacement of a 30- year-old phone system.”
In addition to enhancing communication between the FCTA base and all Transit vehicles in the field, the tablets will push out training programs for better social distancing. Etherton also said the new phone system will finally tie all of the three FCTA offices together.
“All of the new technology not only improves our operations during COVID-19 and similar events, but will allow employees to work from home easier and better during inclement weather times. Especially the scheduling department to prevent them from having to get out and risk their lives coming to the office,” Etherton said.
With the new server, Etherton said that will allow FCTA to do away with several pieces of equipment and envelope it all into one unit. Providing the electronic tablets to FCTA drivers will give them access to information more quickly and efficiently and do away with reams and reams of paperwork they receive on a daily basis.
According to Etherton, FCTA leaders have learned during COVID-19 the importance of being able to work from home and found some of the weaknesses within the agency’s operations to improve upon.
“This money not only allows us to fix our operational weaknesses, it helps us to be better at what we do overall,” Etherton said.
Other funds within the CARES Act award will allow FCTA to better protect office staff in replacing and improving air changing units, replacing old carpeted with newer vinyl and tile flooring.
“The new flooring will help us to keep our buildings cleaner and free of germs and viruses,” Etherton said.
The funds will also provide some needed security glass within the FCTA office buildings.
“The CARES Act funding steps our game up with technology and is something we have needed for a long time,” Etherton said. “It’s kind of a dream come true.”
Team keeps Transit running
Lead Dispatcher Rachel Cook looks for a FCTA driver using NexTraq system.
If the drivers are the feet of Fulton County Transit Authority, then the Dispatch team is definitely the heart.
FCTA’s Dispatch team is made up of call-takers, who take the information from those calling in for rides, and Dispatchers, who give out information and directives over the base station in Fulton. The Dispatch office takes up much of the front portion of the main building at FCTA.
According to Lead Dispatcher Rachel Cook, there really isn’t a typical day in their office.
“It’s unpredictable,” she said. “Every day is a new adventure in the Dispatch office.”
Cook said the office is busy at different times each day making no two the same.
“They vary. Some days we will be super slow until after lunch. Some days we will be super busy and then, after 2 p.m., we will have very few calls,” explained Cook.
The first of every month, though is the busiest time for her team, Cook admitted.
Dispatch team members must have flexibility in their personality wheelhouse in order to be successful at FCTA.
“The Dispatch team has to be very adaptable,” Cook said. “Things change at the drop of a hat so the team has to be able to handle those changes.”
According to Cook, Call-Takers should be efficient at juggling.
“Being able to multitask is a must,” Cook said. “We take hundreds of calls a day. Being able to answer the phone and input information at the same time is a must.”
Keeping up with what is going on via the radio is a task for the Dispatchers as well.
“It can be difficult at times,” Cook said. “Especially when all the drivers want to talk to you at the same time. Other days, though, it’s not too bad.”
Maintaining each driver’s location is not a guessing game as many might think.
“We use an online software program called NexTraq,” Cook explained. “This allows us to see our driver’s locations. This is useful in dispatching out calls especially. If we have a driver that is available and near a certain location, we can see that on the screen and give the appropriate driver that call.”
Generally, the Call-Takers will ask those phoning in a series of similar questions.
“Our Call-Takers are going to ask for your name, where we are picking you up from, where you are going, and will ask for your phone number,” Cook said. “If there is a certain time you need to be picked up, that is something that our Call-Taker is going to need to know.”
The recent nationwide pandemic has also added to the conversation.
“Currently, due to COVID-19, we will also need to know how many riders there will be with you. We are making sure that our clients are able to social distance, so knowing how many people there will are will assist in doing that,” Cook added.
The Dispatch team works with FCTA clients who have made reservations through the Scheduling team and are on the daily manifest as well as those calling in prior to needing a ride that same day. The non-reservation clients are called a Demand Response (DR) client.
As Lead Dispatcher, Cook is much like a conductor with an orchestra. In addition to dispatching information to the FCTA drivers, Cook makes certain the Dispatch team’s workday runs smoothly.
“The process begins with that first phone call,” Cook explained. “Our Call-Takers take the information that they are given and type it into our computer system. I get this information and I use NexTraq to locate my driver that is assigned to that client or is available to transport a DR client. If any issues arise and changes must be made, I go over the paperwork and look for a solution.”
Cook’s leadership also provides information to her team members as well.
“I assist the Call-Takers in answering any questions they may receive,” Cook said. “My co-workers know that I will never let them struggle. I will always be there to answer any questions or attempt to fix any issues, no matter what. I am my co-worker’s first line of defense.”
Thanks to $198,150 recently awarded to FCTA under capital funding in the CARES Act, the Dispatch team will soon have new equipment to improve their jobs.
“This funding will update FCTA’s technology which will include a server and the replacement of a 30-year-old phone system,” FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton revealed in a press release earlier this month.
Etherton also said the new phone system will not only enhance communication with the drivers, it will finally tie all three FCTA offices together.
“All of the new technology not only improves our operations during COVID-19 and similar events, it will allow employees to work from home easier and better during inclement weather times,” Etherton said. “The money not only allows us to fix our operational weaknesses, it helps us to be better at what we do overall.”
Driver Sam Jones has been working at FCTA since October 14, 1992. He says FCTA is a good place to work.
Temp job becomes
Please wear masks
FCTA RESPECTFULLY REQUESTS all riders of any FCTA vehicle to have a mask or facial covering on before boarding any FCTA vehicle.
This is for the safety of yourself, other riders, and FCTA staff and to comply with the Executive Order of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
When Sam Jones started working at Fulton County Transit Authority, President Bill Clinton was about to be elected for the first time, gasoline was an average of $1.13 a gallon, Microsoft had released Windows 3.1, “Silence of the Lambs” won Best Picture at the Oscars, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, a no-fly zone over Iraq was in its second year and Kentucky celebrated its bicentennial statehood.
Jones’ first official day at FCTA was October 14, 1992. He’d never worked as a professional driver before.
“I was between jobs and I was looking for something to do without going to another factory job,” Jones recalled. “I’d worked in two and didn’t want to go back to a factory.”
Jones admits taking the job at FCTA as a temporary stop on his career path in life.
“It kinda just evolved into a long career,” Jones added.
At that time, FCTA was just over seven years old and new in the “people moving” type of business.
“There was not a lot of ridership then,” Jones said. “The vans were a lot smaller. The workload was not as big. We didn’t do a lot of Medicaid runs. In fact, there were hardly any Medicaid clients at all.”
In 1994, TennCare – the first state Medicaid program to enroll all Medicaid recipients in managed care – began and Jones said FCTA drivers began transporting those clients frequently.
“With TennCare, we went to Memphis at least two days a week, sometimes three,” Jones recalled. “We also did a lot of medical transports to Jackson, too.”
According to Jones, work hours were similar in the early 90s as they are today.
“We occasionally came in really early. But we started most days between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and were here most of the days,” Jones said.
Communications between the office and the FCTA vans were similar, too.
“We used radios like we do now, so it was more or less about the same,” Jones said. “There was lots more chatter on them, though. We talked a lot more freely amongst ourselves.”
Besides the changes in some equipment and vehicles, Jones said most of the changes involved the different executive directors.
“We are more proficient in our job now and the kinds of clientele we carry now is really different,” Jones added.
When asked what it takes to be a good driver at FCTA, Jones said you must obey the rules as much as you can. He added that having camaraderie with the clients is a positive, too.
“A good driver is one who is just trying to follow what they’re told to do,” Jones added.
What is Jones’ secret to remaining at FCTA for over 27 years?
“It’s hard to say,” Jones said. “I’ve been on the edge (of leaving) myself sometimes, but I stayed. Mostly doing my job and just being here is how.”
Jones proudly confessed that he has only called in sick one day in almost 28 years.
“I’ve always believed you don’t get paid for staying at home,” Jones explained.
Every now and then, Jones will transport clients who have ridden with him numerous times over the years.
“Occasionally it’s people who sometimes rode to school with us as kids and are now grownups,” Jones said.
When asked what he likes best about working at FCTA, Jones said he likes the solitude of it. Working on his own and driving around the Purchase Area transporting clients offers that frequent remoteness.
“I don’t like being housed in a building all day long,” Jones added. “The longest job I ever had besides here, I spent 14 years working outside year-round.”
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has been an event unlike anything Jones has ever experienced during his tenure at FCTA. Even when the agency limited services to life-sustaining trips and laid off employees, Jones kept working. Since then, he has been delivering meals to senior citizens instead of transporting clients.
“Most of the time I have my mask with me and I always where it most of the day when delivering meals,” Jones said. “Especially since I’m having to go to people’s houses to deliver. I also use gloves and hand sanitizer a lot.”
Jones was hesitant to choose whether he liked meal delivers or driving with clients most.
“I’m very comfortable with both of them,” Jones said.
At 68, Jones is in excellent health and has no plans to retire from FCTA anytime soon.
“I don’t really have a magical number to reach. I will work as long as I have to. I’ve had a job since I was 12 years old. I can’t see not working and can’t see going home and sitting down,” Jones explained. “Even when I leave here, I will find something else to do.”
Obviously, Jones enjoys his job at FCTA.
“I’ve seen folks come and go,” Jones said. “I’ve always thought overall it’s a good place to work.”
Amtrak will design, build local station
“I can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” exclaimed Kenney Etherton after receiving word that a long-awaited community project is finally coming into fruition.
Several years ago, the Fulton County Transit Authority Executive Director took over leadership for the local efforts to construct a new Amtrak station to replace the current one that needed too many repairs. Now the project is becoming a reality.
“We are excited that we are working on an agreement with Amtrak to design and construct a new station,” Etherton revealed. “Amtrak will be bearing the costs of design and construction of the station at its current location”
Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn knows a partnership of any kind with Amtrak is a positive for the area.
“Whether it’s a new station or enhanced services, we are truly proud to have been a part of this project with Amtrak to raise the bar for rail traveling visitors to the City of Fulton,” Gunn said. “This station enhancement will be something that improves their customers’ experiences and should bring in traveling visitors to our community which helps drive the region’s economy.”
Etherton also believes the new station will make an invaluable impact on the community.
“It will be, without a doubt, a much-needed improvement in our community and make it a more attractive place for people to get off the train in Fulton,” Etherton added.
Jeff Campbell, a Fulton native and owner of The Meadows Hotel, has worked on the project and is thrilled it will soon be heading toward the construction stage.
“I am so very pleased to welcome the news that Amtrak has committed to enter into an agreement to build a new passenger train station in Fulton,” Campbell said. “Funding and architectural plans are scheduled for 2021 with construction targeting in 2022.”
Since one of the local fundraisers for the new station involved a permanent structure at the site, Etherton said he has requested that a space be made for the engraved bricks that display names of former and retired IC, CN and Amtrak employees.
“We have asked Amtrak that, in the design phase, space is set aside for the engraved bricks,” Etherton explained. “Amtrak has asked us to use local funds that were donated for signage for station and beautification, lighting, and landscaping.”
Campbell recognized those supporting the station efforts who remained on target to achieve the goal.
“My congratulations to Kenney Etherton and the Fulton County Transit team for their persistence in pushing this to completion after a four-year journey too long,” said Campbell. “All local funds raised, along with the memorial bricks, will be incorporated into the project.”
According to Etherton, tenacity was the key for this project.
“It has been, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating projects I’ve ever worked on,” he explained. “Patience and diligence have prevailed.”
TEAMWORK - This graphic, provided by Purchase Area Regional Transit, offers various statistics and testimonials from Murray-Calloway County Transit, Paducah Area Transit System and Fulton County Transit Authority. Read the graphic carefully to learn more about each agency and how they work together to provide transportation for those in the Purchase Area.