ECATS drivers love job, riders

Published 12:06 am Monday, November 1, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
"Those are my babies," Gwyn Grimes said after she closed the door on her ECATS van. She was talking about the dialysis patients she usually takes to their treatments.
Grimes is one of the two full time drivers for ECATS, the Escambia County Alabama Transit System. Her partner, Wanda Johnson, drives routes in Atmore in her own ECATS van.
Grimes and Johnson drew raves recently when they worked their vans through the still debris covered streets and roadways of the Atmore area after Hurricane Ivan.
"I guess you could say those were trials and tribulations," Grimes said. "You couldn't get to some of the people we pick up. You would come down a street and they would be blocked, but we would find ways to get them. I've never seen people help their neighbors so much."
In addition to their regular duties of driving patients to their appointments, Gimes and Johnson drove medical and other supplies to those in need around Atmore. "We worked with the National Guard and the American Red Cross, trying to help in any way we could," Grimes said.
When most people thing of ECATS, the vision they see is a transit system for the infirm or needy. Nothing could be further from the truth, ECATS workers said. "If you have two dollars, you ride," Grimes said.
Faye Jernigan, ECATS director, said ECATS is a true transit system, for anyone in the county. "We cover every need we can cover," Jernigan said.
ECATS now has a new office in Atmore in the county satellite office. Jernigan said she hoped ridership in Atmore would continue to increase. ECATS is partially federally funded through grants. The transit system also has to pay for itself in matching funds. Last year, 49,766 riders used ECATS.
For Grimes, the job is enjoyable. "I came here because the benefits are good, and I just love it," she said. A majority of ECATS riders are patients for things, which means Grimes has lost some riders to illness over the seven years she's been a driver. "You say you won't get attached to them, but you do. Most are just the sweetest people, and some are real characters," Grimes said. "Sometimes I get on the phone to my daughter and tell her she wouldn't believe it."
On this Friday morning, Grimes takes one rider to the SAIL Center, exchanging a joke about the "newspaper man" riding with them. She also takes another rider to Brewton for a cancer treatment. "I love working with the public. It's what I do now."
Jernigan said employees like Grimes and Johnson are the heart and soul of ECATS. "We wouldn't be able to do what we do without them."

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