Veteran driver is ‘expert’

Published 1:01 am Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Debbie Bowen is one of the CATS drivers.

Just call Debbie Bowen a transportation logistics expert. Her qualifications? The 17 years of experience as a Covington County Area Transit Systems driver.

For nearly two decades, Bowen has been one of three drivers making sure local residents get to the doctor on time, that they have a way to the grocery store and fulfilling any kind of transportation need.

Believe it or not, Bowen began her driving career inside an 18-wheeler. She and her husband of 26 years, Richard, took the course together not long before she came to work at CATS. Mr. Bowen has worked for the last 11 years with Sunbelt in Florala.

But that wasn’t for her, Bowen said. When her sister saw a classified ad in The Star-News advertising the need for drivers, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

“I could tell right away that driving a truck wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Bowen said. “I saw that ad, and I jumped right in. I’ve been here ever since.”

CATS services all areas of the county – including Carolina, Gantt, Red Level, Opp, Florala, Wing and all points in between. Bowen said many people don’t take advantage of the public transportation system, thinking that it’s only available for the elderly and/or disabled.

“We’re here for anyone who needs us,” Bowen said of the agency. “It’s a quick and inexpensive way to travel.”

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.

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

Bowen said being a CATS driver is a “huge responsibility.”

“You’re responsible for everyone on your van,” she said. “It’s extremely different, driving an 18-wheeler than a CATS van. Just like it would be extremely different between those and a regular car.

“There’s a lot more to it,” she said. “There’s a big stress in driving a CATS van. You’re constantly working to avoid accidents. My biggest complaint is other drivers see me and still pull right out in front of me.

“My goal is to be safe and to get my passengers home safely,” she said.

Throughout her career, her driving skills have also earned her seven state and regional driver of the year award and a trip to the national competition, she said.

Bowen said it’s the ability to help that puts her behind the wheel, day-after-day.

“At the end of the day, I feel that I’ve done good – it’s a personal sense of satisfaction,” she said. “I get to help someone in need, and that makes me feel good.”

When she’s not driving, Bowen loves to spend time with four grandchildren (soon to be five grandchildren), watching movies and painting “whatever I come in contact with.”