Scroggins: CATS gives me my independence

Published 12:01 am Thursday, December 1, 2011


Florala resident Wanda Scroggins and her seeing eye dog Harley board the CATS bus after Monday’s commission meeting. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News


Florala resident Wanda Scroggins was 41 when she lost her sight.

“I could no longer drive. I lost my independence in life, and that’s when I became a faithful rider of CATS,” Scroggins said.

But county residents like Scroggins who depend on the Covington Area Transit System for their daily travels are in danger of losing the service. Ruth Edson, the program director, announced at Monday’s county commission meeting the agency has lost several contracts, including one with the Covington County School System. In total, there is a shortage of $35,910, Edson said.

Now, the county is hosting a public meeting on Dec. 12 at 9:30 a.m. for public comments and suggestions on how to make up that loss in revenue.

During the 2010-2011 fiscal year, CATS vans made 12,965 trips (from home to one destination) for 8,307 passengers – including Scroggins.

“I live 17 miles from everywhere and everything,” she said. “For the past 14 years, I’ve been a faithful CATS rider, able to travel independently for shopping, doctor visits and to visit my mother in the Florala Health & Rehab Center in Florala.”

Scroggins said while as a student at LBW Community College from 2002-2004, she also rode CATS to attend classes five days a week.

CATS is a true public transportation system, available to anyone regardless of income or physical condition, as Edson previously said.

“We will come to your home, pick you up and take you to your destination – all for a small fee,” she said.

The agency services all areas of the county – including Carolina, Gantt, Red Level, Opp, Florala, Wing and all points in between. The fare for those residing within a city limits is $3; for those outside the city limits, but within a 35-mile radius, $6; and for those outside the 35-mile radius, $7. The fee includes two stops, and each additional stop is 50-cents. That money, or “fare box money,” is used to meet the required 20 percent local match required for federal funding. However, Edson said, the program cannot be self-sustaining on just fare box money alone, and third-party transportation contracts are used to fill in the gap. The agency recoups 50 percent of its operational costs after the 20 percent is paid, she said.

One suggestion to generate additional revenue is to increase fares – something Scroggins and other riders don’t want.

“The fares are reasonable and don’t need to be increased,” she said. “And neither does this program need to go away. Its importance in my personal life has allowed me as a blind person to be involved in Lions Club, the Covington Blind & Low Vision Outreach Group, Blue Lake Camp and to shop for my groceries or experiencing the luxury of having my nails manicured.

“I know of so many Covington County residents that depend on the CATS transit,” she said. “We have many persons that need the accessibility of the wheelchair lift, rides for kidney dialysis patients, students employees and tours.

“I enjoy my rides with CATS,” she said. “ I have never been broke down by the road, out of gas, or felt stranded at home alone without a dependable ride to my destinations.

“In my opinion, the county, cities, communities, and others need to be informed that CATS is available to all to ride,” she said. “And we need to come up with a solution to keep it running.”