Coggin was not the only one that recognized the sacrifi ces the CTA staff made; the CTAA honored Coast Transit Authority with the 2006 Community Transportation System of the Year award. "That's directly attributed to our employees," Coggin states. "To receive that award was really a true honor for me, to go and receive that award on behalf of our employees."
It has not been easy for CTA and its staff. With the housing shortage, it is also feeling the work force shortage and a year later is still struggling to hire mechanics. "It's getting better, so people are starting to come back," Coggin says. "It's been a challenge to keep an adequate work force going to meet the needs of the community. People want to come back, they want to work, and there is no place for them to live."
Keeping the staff going has meant a strong focus on employee morale year round. The staff often has to go fi ght their own battles with insurance companies, FEMA or contractors. Coggin emphasizes, "We're very conscious that in order for us to provide a good service we have to have good employees and to have good employees we have to have a good work environment.
"You talk to folks and you sympathize with them and work with them," Coggin explains. "Be understanding and be very fl exible with their work.
"We really just try to be as sympathetic as we can and work with them the best we can.
"I had damage to my home but I had a home to live in. To see people coming into work every day, working eight to 10 hours every day, who lost everything really motivated me. Kept my spirits up," he says.
Aid after the Storm
Throughout the conversation, Coggin could not say enough about all of the different agencies and organizations that helped the agency. Providing money and resources, national organizations and federal agencies worked to get CTA on the road again. For future disasters of this nature, there was one improvement he thought could be made, "The Federal Transit Administration needs emergency assistance authority.
"The FTA understands what we do. They shouldn't have to go through another agency." He explains, "The FTA had to go beg money from FEMA to help me." Coggin stresses CTA received much help from FEMA, it is not meant to be critical of FEMA. "A lot of other federal agencies [have emergency assistance authority]. Federal highways, FAA, Maritime Administration, they all have emergency assistance authority when something like this happens.
"They step in and do what needs to be done to maintain services." Again, Coggin emphasizes, "I don't want to sound like a slap to FEMA because it's not. FEMA gave us $1.5 million towards emergency operating assistance allowing us to do things we would not have been able to do.
"I do not believe it is as recognized as it should be how important public transportation is in a catastrophic event and we really need help," Coggin states. "We're hurt bad, the communities depend on us and we really need help providing a service that needs to be provided." After a pause he stresses, "At a time when the community needed us the most, we struggled the most."
With all the help, there are still struggles. "Our congressional delegation is fi ghting very hard to get us help." Coggin explains, "We had $200 million dedicated to transit assistance in the last Hurricane Katrina Relief funding bill to help us and every penny of it was taken out by Congress.
"The Senate put it in there and when it went to congressional committee, the House was successful in having it taken out.
"The president specifically identified that money as something that shouldn't be in there." Coggin elaborates, "He specifically identifi ed public transportation hurricane relief money as something that should not have been in that supplemental bill.
"I currently have a $7.4 million request in to replace my bus fl eet with new vehicles," Coggin says.
Summarizing the catastrophe, Coggin remarks, "We went through the worst and really came out OK thanks to the help of a lot of people." He emphasizes, "I really can't say that enough. Everybody calling, 'what can we do,' 'how can we help' and they continue to do so."