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FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton and Assistant Director Paul Maxwell pose with FCTA Buildings and Grounds Maintenance Manager Chris Brown (left) and FCTA Dispatcher/Call Taker Christy Snow after they received their awards in Lexington recently.

Employees receive statewide honors

Two Fulton County Transit Authority employees received statewide recognition in Lexington recently for their superb work ethics and abilities.

During the 2021 Kentucky Public Transit Association Conference, FCTA Buildings and Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Chris Brown was named Supervisory Staff of the Year for service provided in the field of Transportation while FCTA Dispatcher/Call Taker Christy Snow was named CSR of the Year - Outstanding Customer Service.

“I am proud of our team at FCTA,” said Executive Director Kenney Etherton. “Christy Snow is, without a doubt, a caring person and it shows every day when she answers the phone. She tries to find a way to help get our client’s service. She also works with all FCTA staff to find the most efficient way for us to provide service daily. Christy is a team player.”

Etherton noted Brown’s amazing ability with vehicle maintenance and repair.

“There is not much Chris Brown doesn’t know about a FCTA vehicle,” Etherton said. “He has 65 ‘children’ and knows how to take care of them. You tell Chris what a vehicle sounds like, and he can probably tell you what’s wrong with it. His 21 years of experience is what helps keep us rolling every day.

“FCTA has a great team of people, and we are proud to be serving the counties of West Kentucky. Join me in congratulation two of our state award winning team members,” Etherton added.

Brown, a native of Michigan who moved to Union City, TN, when his father was transferred with Goodyear, began working at FCTA as a shop helper in 2006 and worked his way up to Maintenance Supervisor in six years.

The Leadership Team member grew from maintaining and repairing vehicles from a small toolbox in a portable building to a two-vehicle maintenance building. Brown’s knowledge of vehicles is amazing and there are few mechanical issues that he cannot fix. Because of his knowledge and abilities, FCTA has been able to save thousands of dollars from in-house repairs and maintenance measures. His preventive maintenance measures equal any within the Commonwealth. Throughout his more than two decades of service, Brown has been able to keep high milage vehicles running safely and efficiently. He keeps superb vehicle maintenance records, and all required reports are updated and submitted in a time manner.

Snow, who has been employed at FCTA for almost four years, worked daily throughout the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to make certain the agency lived up to its motto of “Going & Coming Your Way.” She never complained or griped through it all and made certain those life-sustaining and other necessary trips during that time were made efficiently. A team player, Snow never hesitates to cover shifts and goes above and beyond for FCTA.

“It’s an honor to be recognized on a statewide level,” Snow said. “I do my job the best I can. You have to have a lot of patience and some days more patience than others.”

A graduate of South Fulton (TN) High School, Snow has been married to her husband, Mike, for 33 years. She has three children and two grandchildren.

“Christy is one of the most patient and understanding women that FCTA has employed here,” said Operations Manager Rachel Cook who nominated Snow. “She is determined to help FCTA run as efficiently as possible. She has never hesitated to take another team member under her wing to train and show them how FCTA operates.”

FCTA clients urged to practice patience

Fulton County Transit Authority continues to ask clients for patience throughout the next few weeks as driver numbers remain low and trip requests are continually on the rise.

Demand Response clients are still being urged to plan in advance for transportation needs and to schedule rides to local businesses, governmental agencies, or financial institutions 24 to 48 hours before needed.

“At this point, we are not guaranteeing that Demand Response clients won’t have to ride the bus for an extended period of time or have to wait longer to be picked up,” FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton said. “We are doing everything we can do to meet clients’ needs, but we are experiencing some wait times beyond our control right now.”

FCTA’s leader hopes the issues facing the transportation agency cease soon.

“We are trying to hire more drivers, but due to our increased client load and Kentucky Medicaid contractual requirements and restrictions, we are doing the best we can do,” Etherton said.

Those need to schedule a trip with FCTA should call 270-472-0662 and press 2 after the prompt.

FCTA proudly serves Fulton, Hickman, Graves, and Carlisle counties.

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Driver Johnny Morris (left photo) participated in the first training. Mechanic Kenny Patterson installs the wiring for the new tablets.

Communication changing at FCTA Monday

Fulton County Transit Authority began a new form of base to bus communication recently. Called “Push to Talk,” the agency signed up with this service that runs through First Net cell towers.

Despite a few expected and unexpected glitches here and there, the system operated as anticipated during the first run.

“I hear Mr. Kenney talk about moving forward and making changes for the future of FCTA,” said Operations Manager Rachel Cook. “Push to Talk is the epitome of making changes for the betterment of our agency. This changes how we communicate significantly. The program introduces our agency to a much larger world of technology.”

Each FCTA Driver will have their own tablet equipped with the Push to Talk program. All FCTA vehicles are equipped with cradles that are made for the tablet.

“Originally made for First Responders, Push to Talk has been adapted for Transit and other users now,” explained FCTA Manager of Information Systems Nikki Hamrick.

The system works remarkably like the one FCTA has used for years. Instead of using a tower and repeaters, though, the communication is run through tablets and computers in the Dispatch area.

“They work the same as a two-way radio,” said Hamrick, “You press the mic and start talking. The reach of the system will be nationwide, so we won’t be limited on communication with drivers on long trips.”

Not only is the new program a better line of communication, but it’s also going to be less expensive to operate.

“We plan to eliminate the two-way radio and the $12,000 it takes a year to rent a power station,” explained Assistant Director Paul Maxwell. “There will also be no more repeaters at $7,000 a year which sometimes burn out and have to be replaced.”

Using the Push to Talk program is just as easy, even easier, as using the two-way radio system.

“If you can work a Smartphone, you can work this. It’s not hard, it just takes a bit of getting used to,” said Executive Director Kenney Etherton.

Drivers have already undergone required training in small groups to become acquainted with the new system.

“This system allows base to talk to you individually,” Hamrick explained during the training. “Radio traffic will be completely different.”

Hamrick went on to say that the communication will always be between Dispatch and the driver. Unlike two-way radio chatter, there will be no talking over another driver during transmissions with the Push to Talk program. If a driver calls in to base while the dispatcher is talking with another driver, the second driver will be placed into a que that dispatch can get to after the original call is completed.

Other items drivers learned during the training included:

  • The tablets will continuously charge while in the vehicle cradle with no fear of losing power during the work schedule while driving buses. They will also remain on when the bus is turned off. Those drivers using vans or a FCTA SUV must realize the that the tablets will turn off when those vehicles are turned off and must be turned on again whenever the vehicle is started again.

  • To talk with a dispatcher, the mic must be keyed for three seconds before the driver should begin to speak. When you push the button, the base sign will also turn blue when it is time to talk. Should it turn green, leave a message for the dispatcher with the information they might need or asking them to give you a public service later.

  • The tablets are sensitive to heat and must be removed from the vehicles is the outside temperature is over 90 degrees. Chilly weather, though, shouldn’t bother them.

  • The Push to Talk Ap will be on the tablet screen. So will Google Maps. Anything else that appears on the tablet screen will be made to disappear by the IT department.

  • Drivers who need the print on the tablets to be enlarged can ask IT to do this.

  • If the tablet is in its cradle and can “see” the drivers face, it will remain active.

  • When a tablet is locked in its cradle, the Google Map will condense whenever base is called. Double tapping the screen will enlarge the map.

  • The tablet’s screen should be cleaned every day when taken from its charger at the Transit office. Only use the screen cleaners provided by FCTA.

  • The tablet will not work if it is not plugged up to the vehicle.

  • There is a key on the van key that will lock the tablet into the cradle whenever leaving the van.

  • Every tablet has a button at the bottom. In case or an emergency and you can’t get through to the dispatcher, clicking that button will alert dispatch to contact you immediately.

  • The Google Map will provide a box to tell you exactly where your location is. It will also provide complete coordinates if they are needed.

  • When a driver come in each morning, they should make certain the tablet powers up. Then they should push talk on the Push to Talk to make sure that comes on. The driver should also inspect the tablet to make certain there is no damage or other issues. If there is damage, a repair form should be filled out and the driver should use one of the extra tablets for that day.

  • When turning on the cradle in the vehicles, drivers should make certain the blue light comes on.

  • The system records everything.

FCTA proudly serves Fulton, Hickman, Graves, and Carlisle counties.

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Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn and FCTA Executive Director Kenney Etherton participated in a Zoom meeting recently with four officials connected to the Fulton Amtrak Station construction project.

New Amtrak station plans remain on track

According to Fulton County Transit Authority Director Kenney Etherton, the wheels are moving slowly, but still on track for a new Amtrak station in Fulton.

Etherton and Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn recently participated in a Zoom meeting with four officials connected to the station project including Project Manager Johnathan Johnston; Ellen Pannell, Third Party ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act); Derrick James, Senior Manager of Government Affairs for Amtrak; and Karen Feider, Third Party ADA.

During the meeting, the two Fulton officials learned that the station design is currently 60 percent complete. The Fulton station is one of 500 Amtrak stations in the United States undergoing an ADA upgrade. The new station will be fully ADA accessible. The design will incorporate ADA parking and ADA ramps. A wheelchair ramp and lift will be incorporated on the platform to assist with getting those who need to use it on the train.

Specifics included in the meeting also included that the station itself will be comprised of 425 square feet for the interior waiting room. There will be 800 total square feet within the structure that will add a maintenance area and bathrooms in addition to the interior waiting room.

The preliminary plans also included an external awning for those wishing to or needing to wait for the train outside of the building as it will only be open for one hour before the train arrives and one hour after it leaves.

The station doors will be fitted with time locks and lighting there will be controlled technologically as well. Conductors will have the ability to bring the station lights to 100% use before the train arrives at the station.

Amtrak will be providing what is called a memorial sign for the station itself on the corner of Newton Road and the access road to the station. Local officials will obtain right of way access for a sign on Newton Road and U.S. 51 directing motorists into the station itself.

Local funds which were previously raised for construction of the railroad station are currently deposited in a Fulton area bank and is being overseen by the Twin Cities Restoration Foundation of which Etherton serves as president. Part of the funds were raised with a memorial brick drive and those bricks will be used in a landscaping project near the station itself.

“The Twin Cities Restoration Foundation will be upgrading and enhancing that project,” Etherton said.

There is also a proposed plan for another memorial of some sort to stand alongside the bricks and landscaping.

Gunn stated that some of the local funding may also be used for security cameras at the station which are not being included in the Amtrak design. Local officials will be responsible for maintaining these cameras as well.

Etherton and Gunn will meet with the Amtrak officials again when the design phase reaches 90 percent. The group stated Tuesday that they expect the drawings to be completed by mid-January 2022.

Construction for the new station is proposed to start in Fall 2022 at the latest. According to Etherton, the funding for the project is included in the Federal Fiscal Year 23 budget which starts in October 2022.

“Construction could happen in April or May of 2022, but most likely won’t,” Gunn said the officials revealed in the meeting.

No drawings of the proposed train station were released for public view during this meeting as all drawings were only a little more than halfway complete and subject to change.

Following the meeting, Gunn mentioned two “hoops” that the station officials stated must be jumped through relating to the project. These included the National Historic Preservation Act’s (NHPA) Section 106 Survey which is designed to make effective management decisions about archaeological resources in the station’s area. The other has to do with the State Historic Preservation Office and making certain any historic area is kept intact.

“It’s slow and on track, but it’s moving forward,” Etherton said. “We are looking forward to seeing it at 90% completed now.”