Coming to Coast Transit Authority (CTA) in Gulfport, Miss., the morning after Hurricane Katrina, Kevin Coggin, executive director, found the property under 3 feet of water. "All of our equipment had some water damage. All the offices had a foot of water, the shop had 2 feet. It took us a week to get everything cleaned up so we could run anything."
Fortunately, help was there to get the buses out on the streets as quickly as possible. "We've had a lot of help from a lot of people," Coggin emphasizes. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), FEMA, the Community Transit Association of America (CTAA) and APTA were some of the organizations that were there after the storm. Coggin states, "The CTAA came here immediately after the storm and was on the ground here in constant contact with us, assisting us in recovery.
"The FTA and CTAA were instrumental in us getting the FEMA mission assignment; it is what FEMA calls its emergency operating assistance." This operating assistance allowed CTA to provide free service and restore service from October 2005 through the end of February 2006.
Coggin adds, "The FTA came immediately after the storm and provided day-today transit planning assistance, provided a consultant to give us constant help." He continues, "They did two things. They gave us deferred local match on our federal subsidies, which gave us an opportunity to meet the immediate need and worry about the money later, and they gave us daily access to transit planning help through DMJM Harris. It was a tremendous help to us to get through the crisis period."
With the assistance the agency was receiving, it was able to be up and running one week after the storm. "We had a fixed route service back out on the street and we were running demand response with no restrictions," Coggin says. "Whatever people called for, we just did it."
People had lost their homes and lost their automobiles. They were trapped in these hurricane-damaged communities and they were desperate. The community relied on public transportation for help during this time. Coggin explains, "Our routes were designed to connect life support, recovery, rebuilding services." The routes connected people to all the hospitals, medical clinics, the Disaster Relief Center and the Points of Distribution. "People had access to Disaster Relief Centers, kind of like one-stop shopping where all the governmental agencies are there, FEMA, MEMA, Red Cross, Salvation Army, all those people are there," Coggin says.
Building a Career in Transit
This was all probably more than Coggin had ever imagined when he started as a diesel mechanic working at a local Detroit Diesel engine distributor in Biloxi, Miss. From there it was Hausman Bus Sales, which introduced him to the bus industry. A larger competitor bought out the company and the branch closed.
In September of 1989, Coggin went to work at Coast Transit Authority as a maintenance supervisor. "Similar to what I was doing at Hausman Bus Sales," he explains. "I was doing the same thing, managing the maintenance program."
As the company grew, Coggin got more into the business end of things. "I got into things like procurement, construction projects, those kinds of things," he says. "Spending all the money," he adds with a laugh. "I wasn't responsible for worrying about how to pay for it, just spending it all."
The CTA board of directors appointed Coggin as executive director in September of 2003 and he has been enjoying it since - challenges included. "The job is definitely not monotonous as anybody in the transit business knows," he says. "It's a very dif- fi cult fi eld to be in, very challenging to keep it going and to grow it." Coggin adds, "It's very gratifying to be successful in doing a job that's hard to do."