A Closer Look at Omnitrans’ Growth from a Past Driver’s Perspective

Change is unavoidable, especially for a public transit agency in the ever-changing landscape of Southern California, but taking a closer look at how things were 40 years ago illustrates just how far Omnitrans has come! This month, as we celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we connected with one of our original employees – Richard Breeden – who was integral in developing some important practices that are still part of our daily operations in connecting our community.

It was 1958 when Richard joined San Bernardino Valley Transit, which would become Omnitrans. After being discharged from the US Army, and a short stint at Santa Fe Railroad, Richard saw a job opening for bus drivers and decided to apply, hoping to utilize his experience as an Army driver. After completing a test drive, he was asked if he could begin the 14-day training process the next day.

“I was given a rule book to read before coming in the next day,” remembers Richard of the fast-paced process. “I had to learn all the routes, rules, regulations, operation procedures, and fares all in one night!”

Richard Breeden

Richard in action as the first bus driver trainer around the time Omnitrans was formed.

Many things were different in the transit world in those days. Base fare was 25 cents, the buses did not have wheelchair lifts, and there was no air conditioning for those hot summer days! In addition to conducting a 20-40 foot bus without power-steering, it was the driver’s duty to collect fare, sort it and run it through a changer to generate change for the next stop. Hello, forearms of steel! 

It was only Richard’s seventh day of training when he was asked to train a fellow student! Hesitantly, Richard complied with the dispatcher’s request and from that moment forward, he was no longer a student, but as a trainer.

Of course, that’s not how it works today. Four decades later, Omnitrans’ coach operators must complete five to six weeks of training and education with a certified trainer, including classroom work, behind the wheel experience, and even a state-of-the-art coach simulator with the most advanced technology.

In 1962, Richard was the employee who took the initiative to approach the city of San Bernardino to voice the need for formal training of our drivers. A few months later, a sign-up sheet was posted for anyone interested in being a trainer. Richard did not sign up.

When the transit manager asked why his name was not on the list, Richard responded that he was “happy being a bus driver.” After being convinced to add his name to the pool of applicants, he scored an interview and was selected for the newly created role.

After developing a comprehensive three-week training program that included diagrams and obstacle courses, City Hall approved Richard’s plan. The students’ training period culminated with a test created by Richard, which required a passing score of 80% or higher. Those who scored below that threshold were terminated.

Richard Breeden

Richard came back to Omnitrans for a visit last summer and posed with Old Blue, our vintage 1958 bus, which he found and was also the first to drive at special events around town.

In the years following, Richard revamped the driver’s rule book, and partnered with the National Safety Council to create the Million Mile Club for transit operators, an exclusive club for drivers who have driven 1,000,000 miles accident-free. He strengthened our partnerships with law enforcement by coordinating mutually beneficial trainings on our vehicles, and created positive relations between Omnitrans and community organizations including coordination of the first employee blood drive after a mechanic’s daughter found herself in need during surgery. The blood drive continues to this day.

Richard retired in 2000 as Fleet Safety and Training Supervisor at Omnitrans, but returned for special events to drive our 1958 vintage bus, Old Blue, which he found and drove for the first time. Although we have vastly grown from a small agency of just 29 vehicles in 1976, it is employees such as Richard who had the foresight to implement ideas that continue to impact our agency four decades later.

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