Shirley L. Cummins’s journey in transportation began over 35 years ago when she first volunteered at the Rockcastle Senior Citizens Center. Soon she rose to become the Center’s Executive Director. Working out of an office housed in a backroom at the Rockcastle County Public Library and with access to just two vans, Ms. Cummins oversaw three senior citizen sites in the county whose primary mission was to provide meals to older residents. Eventually, the Center’s purview expanded to encompass adult day care, following the application and approval for a social based model of care. Under Ms. Cummins’s direction the Center not only organized regular activities to enrich the daily lives of senior citizens but provided a little respite for their caregivers. Ms. Cummins recognized that despite these great strides, older residents confronted many transportation-related challenges — not just in Rockcastle County, but throughout southeastern Kentucky.
Motivated to increase the mobility of senior citizens, Ms. Cummins pursued and obtained wheelchair accessible vehicles that could be used to transport older residents. Intensive community outreach followed to inform residents of the new transportation options. Soon after, services expanded into Whitley, Laurel, and Knox counties, and then elsewhere. By 1990, what began in Rockcastle County as a small operation with two vans serving three senior centers was incorporated as Rural Transit Enterprises Coordinated, Inc. (RTEC), a vibrant nonprofit public transportation corporation that now operates in 15 counties throughout southeastern Kentucky. With a fleet of approximately 230 vehicles and a staff of almost 200, RTEC provides vital services to the residents of the communities it serves. In its 30 years’ existence, RTEC has touched the lives of approximately 230,000 people and transported its clients over one million miles. Its mission has been made easier due to Ms. Cummins being at the forefront of technological advances in transportation, leveraging new systems and software to enhance RTEC’s operation and increasing the ease with which clients can use its services. For example, implementation of Dispatch Module Software lets RTEC’s main office quickly dispatch vehicles, supports real-time scheduling, and lets clients determine how close their bus is. Adoption of Electronic Payment Gateway (EPG) software has enabled clients to pre-pay cash fares.
Through her involvement with RTEC, Ms. Cummins has played an important role in the revitalization of downtown Mount Vernon, Kentucky. Since the 1990s, RTEC has purchased, renovated, and occupied a number of buildings on East Main Street and Spring Street that are now home to the organization’s main offices, its maintenance and garage operations, the growing reservation and dispatch departments, and soon a state-of-the-art training facility.
Under Ms. Cummins’s leadership, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Transportation Delivery (OTD) has recognized RTEC’s contributions with several awards. In 2017, RTEC received OTD’s Outstanding Section 5311 Public Transit Award for Large Size Agency and the Statewide Human Service Transportation Delivery Outstanding Call Center Award. And in 2021, OTD honored RTEC with the Outstanding Grant Administration Award and Broker of the Year Award.
Ms. Cummins serves on the Boards of Directors of the Kentucky Public Transit Association (KPTA), Kentuckians for Better Transportation, and Public Transit Modal. In 2001 she was inducted into the Kentucky Transit Hall of Fame. In 2021, KPTA presented her with the Lifetime Achievement in Transit award, citing her leadership, dedicated service, and outstanding, lifelong contributions to the transit industry.