Conversation with Avery County Transportation Authority Director, Debbie Smith

Published Monday, July 23, 2018 at 9:40 am

Avery County Transportation Authority’s Director, Debbie Smith

By Tim Gardner

     Those who know Debbie Smith well and others with whom she comes in contact are impressed with her kindness, compassion for others and the casual way she presents himself. And as the Avery County Transportation Authority’s Director, Smith is highly-regarded for her professionalism and expertise in the various job functions she fills.

   The following interview was conducted with Smith about various topics concerning the Avery Transportation Authority, including its general operations, the services it offers the county’s residents and the championships it has claimed the past two years in a practical competition against three other counties.

HCP (High Country Press): For those who may not know you, what is your professional and personal background? And how long have you worked for the Avery Transportation Authority?

Smith: I was born and raised in Avery County. I worked in the fast food business during my high school years. I then went to manufacturing, working for TRW/IRC. I earned two degrees from Mayland Community College and then began a career at Lees-McRae College that lasted more than twenty years. I have been with Avery Transportation for five wonderful years.

HCP: What is the primary function of the Avery County Transportation Authority (Department )?
Smith: To provide safe, reliable, cost effective transportation to Avery County residents. We are a rural demand response system open for public transportation. Ensuring our clients get to medical appointments and life sustaining appointments is our priority. Avery County Transportation (ACT) is available to offer transportation and mobility options that empower residents to live independently with a freedom of choice. ACT provides transportation for advanced health, self-sufficiency, economic vitality, education, and community involvement. We care about the quality of life in Avery County.

HCP: What is the physical makeup of the Avery Transportation Authority… How many officers, Board of Advisors, employees, etc. does it have?
Smith: We are a department of the county so we report to the county manager and the county commissioners. We have three full-time office personnel, seven full-time drivers and ten part-time drivers. We have a Transportation Advisory Board that meets quarterly. We receive grants from the State Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), so we follow all guidelines and reporting pertaining to Public Transportation.

HCP: How many and what kind of vehicles does the transportation department offer Avery residents who use its services?
Smith: Our system is comprised of twelve service vehicles, including one ADA lift equipped Light Transit Vehicle (mini-bus). We also have three ADA lift equipped high top vans and three 12 Passenger high top conversion vans. We have one ADA ramp accessible mini-van, two mini-vans and two crossover AWD vans.

HCP: What is the procedure for those wishing to ride the transportation authority’s vehicles?
Smith: To call our office (733-0005) and we fill out a simple information form for Avery residents. We then can start booking rides.

HCP: What towns, cities and other places does your department offer Avery residents transportation to and back home from?

Smith: We go to Boone, Spruce Pine, Asheville and various other places.

HCP: What kinds of trips such as shopping, doctor’s appointments and other trips does the transportation authority offer to those riding in its vehicles?

Smith: We offer out of county medical trips on a first call-in basis. We request one-week advance scheduling. Our shopping trip goes to a Wal-Mart once a month. When we see the demand we will increase that service to two times a month.

HCP: Does the transportation authority also offer regular routes within the county that its residents are provided transportation from home, to and then back home? If so, what are those regular routes?
Smith: We are a Demand Response System, but when requested we run Altamont, and Beech Mountain routes a couple times a week. Our regular riders enjoy shopping and visiting the Avery Senior Center.

HCP: What are the costs for those wishing to use the transportation services your department offers?
Smith:   We strive to keep costs low. Our rates have not been increased for more than 20 years. Trips inside the county are only $2. A medical appointment trip to Boone is only $5.

HCP: Does the transportation department offer its services on weekends as well as weekdays?

Smith: No. We have not received sufficient requests to justify weekend trips.

HCP: I assume the transportation authority has many rigid Federal, State and County guidelines and training procedures your drivers and other employees must follow and have, respectfully… What are some of those mandates?
Smith: A strict training regimen is required of all new hires and training is updated on an annual basis. Our rules follow those of the FTA and North Carolina DOT for Drug and Alcohol testing. Our policies, plans and procedures are checked by NCDOT by site-visits and reviews.

HCP: The Avery County Commissioners recently approved a 2018-19 Fiscal Year Budget that included $1,359,584.00 for the Transportation Department, which was a $520,885.00 increase from the previous physical year (2017-18). Specifically, how will the much-welcomed funding help the transportation department?

Smith: Our transportation department will be receiving nine replacement service vans in the fiscal year 2018-19. We also are planning some parking lot repairs and our outdated security system will be replaced. The vans to be replaced all have more than 130,000 miles and are worn out. Our Community Transportation Program grant from the state will reimburse us for 90 percent of the costs for the capital projects. We are blessed to be part of a county with leaders who truly care about the quality of life for its residents.

HCP: In conclusion, do you have other comments you would like to make about any topics involving the transportation department?
Smith: Yes, on June 1st, more than 40 transportation drivers from Avery, Mitchell, Yancey and Madison counties competed in what we call the Northwestern North Carolina Regional Roadeo.  And that is spelled

Road-eo, because we’re a transportation business and different than an animal rodeo. Transit agency drivers competed in a driving obstacle course consisting of many real world scenarios that transportation drivers face on a day-to-day basis such as a serpentine, passenger drop off, right hand backing, diminishing clearance, judgment stop and driving habits. Additionally, the drivers completed 10 different non-driving training stations including fire extinguisher use, blood born pathogen safety and many others.  Up for grabs were bragging rights, cash prizes, and trophies for the winners. The roadeo is a big event for us as we completed most of our state mandated Public Transportation Division training for the year and came together with our peers for a competitive and fun day.

     First place went to Tim Brewer of Avery County Transportation and second place also went to Avery with Driver Sheldon Brooks. Presenting the awards was North Carolina Department of Transportation Public Transportation Division Mobility Development Specialist Alexius Farris of Raleigh.  2018 marked the second year of this event with Avery County Transportation winning first and second both years.  We also congratulate Avery County Drivers Claude Buchanan, Tim Brewer and Stan Vance for winning the First Place in last year’s State Roadeo competition that was open to all of North Carolina’s 100 counties and held in Charlotte. Tim Brewer, said that he is blessed to do this work for the county and are proud of our service to the public and that he will always do his best whether in competition or in his daily driving. I think this attitude echoes that of each of our drivers and employees.


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