Category Archives: Employee Profile

Million Mile Coach Operators honored for safety

Omnitrans coach operators have an excellent safety record

Omnitrans Coach Operators Derman Redman and Cecil Stevens were honored for their milestone achievement of 100 million safe driving miles.

This month, the Omnitrans Million Mile Club welcomed two new 1 million mile drivers and two 2 million mile drivers into its ranks. These dedicated coach operators have achieved the prestigious 1 million mile mark by logging 25,000 driving hours without a preventable accident. It’s the equivalent of driving to the moon and back–twice!

Omnitrans CEO Graham Scott, Operators Director Diane Caldera, Board Chair Alan Wapner, Million Mile Coach Operator Derman Redman

The coach operators were honored in a special awards ceremony at the Omnitrans Board of directors meeting on March 5th. Each received a certificate of recognition and a check for $5oo.

One Million Miler Derman Redman is proud of his 14 years driving for Omnitrans and his record of excellent customer service.  He drives Routes 1 and 2.

Omnitrans CEO Scott Graham, Operations Director Diane Caldera, Board Chair Alan Wapner and Million Mile Coach Operator Cecil Stevens

“I love driving,” he says frankly. “And I like being able to work with such diverse people. I really enjoy seeing all the different nationalities and customs. It’s such a mixing pot on the bus—always full of surprises.”

While people are his greatest joy, they can also present some of the greatest challenges. But Derman believes that friendliness and courteousness goes a long way towards dispelling potential problems.

Million Mile Coach Operator Derman Redman with Operations Manager John Steffon

“It’s hard to be rude to someone who just smiled at you and wished you a great day,” laughs Redman. “I also apologize a lot. If I know a customer has had a bad day or a bad experience, I tell them I’m sorry and do my best to turn things around for them. It’s the quickest way to diffuse a situation. It lets people know you care.”

Million Mile coach operator Cecil Stevens with Operations Manager John Steffon

Million Mile coach operator Cecil Stevens with Operations Manager John Steffon

Route 8 operator Cecil Stevens agrees.  In addition to being a One Million Miler, he recently earned two other titles. He is now a Coach Operator Instructor and a member of our new sbX driving fleet.

A group of Million Mile Club members pose with sbX

A group of Million Mile Club members pose with sbX

“I like being on the road, and I care about people. I try to treat them like I would like to be treated. I always tell my passengers good morning, good night, have a great day. If they seem upset, I ask if they’re alright. I also pay special attention to first time riders and make sure I know where they’re going to so I can help them out. Then when I see them again, I ask how the trip went for them.”  Cecil chuckles. “People are always surprised that I remember them. It’s important to me that they have a good experience on my bus.”

Omnitrans bus drivers honored for safety record

Omnitrans bus drivers honored for safety record

Our Two Million Mile drivers, Krafton Stoll and Andrea Thompson, were unable to attend the awards ceremony. These long-time veterans have a long track record of safety, dedication and caring and are an inspiration to all of us.

Congratulations to all our Million Mile award winners. You make us proud!

Omnitrans Million Mile safe drivers and their trainers

The Omnitrans training team with our One Million Mile award winners: (left to right) Cecil Stevens, Steven McClure, Kimberly Perkins, Don Frazier, Verretta Johnson, Terry Molloy, Derman Redman, and Christina Diaz

- Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Female Air Force Major named Director of Operations

Diane Caldera has been appointed the new Director of Operations at Omnitrans after serving eight months as “interim.” It’s a challenge she’s excited to take on.

As Director, she will oversee more than 400 employees responsible for delivering public bus service to the San Bernardino Valley. Her department also manages transportation contracts which provide demand response services: OmniLink, a general public dial-a-ride; and, Access, for persons with disabilities.

When Diane joined the agency in 2005 as a coach operator, she quickly moved through the ranks.  Within six months she took a position in Human Resources, then returned to Operations to work as a Field Supervisor. Finally she was promoted to Assistant Transportation Manager where she spent 7 years managing and mentoring others.

“I like to take the time to talk with people and get to know them as individuals—especially our coach operators. This way I can recognize straight away when something’s bothering them and ask them about it. Their mindset plays such critical role in making sure they are mentally prepared and ready for the road that I want to help if I can.”

“Sometimes I offer advice or encourage them to get their education because they have so much potential and can move up. I want to see people succeed and always encourage them as much as possible. I like knowing that people can come to me, seek my opinion or ask for help—even outside my department. I  like having a positive impact on their lives.”

Diane didn’t have the luxury of a mentor in her own career but she figured things out on her own. Much of her learning was done the hard way, through on the job training. For the past 30 years, she has served in the Air Force and is currently a Major. Going from 17 years in enlisted service to becoming a commissioned officer in December 1999 was a huge goal for her, and now she looks forward to going before the Lieutenant Colonel Board for selection later this year.

“In the military I came up the ranks, especially in the flying career as loadmaster, in an area that was predominately male. I was one of the pioneers, one of the first women to get into that career field.  The decisions I made had a crucial impact. The error of margin for maintaining the planes center of balance was 3/10 of a percent. It was that critical. The plane could crash if it wasn’t balanced. It was very precise, very accurate and there was a lot of training involved. Just that position alone was a yearlong training.”

The skills Diane honed in the military proved invaluable in her transit career.

“The Air Force taught me a lot about time management. You learn to forecast and make decisions under pressure. And traveling to different cultures teaches you how important it is to walk in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand their perspective. It’s a good lesson that can also be applied to the workplace.”

Female Air Force Major Diane Caldera is new Director of Operations for Omnitrans

Diane also put herself through school and earned her Bachelors in Business Administration and her Masters in Human Resources. She pursued different degrees because she wanted to be well-rounded. Her business degree gave her a firm foundation in operations and finance, while HR taught her best practices in firing, hiring and labor negotiations. The combination of these skills has helped her to move up in the agency and has provided a solid groundwork for her new role as Director.

“I love the challenge,” admits Diane frankly. “As a director, you have a higher level view. Instead of being at 10,000 feet, you’re now at 25,000. You’re more involved. It’s about overseeing, streamlining, making things happen, keeping things rolling and ensuring everything is done safely. Instead of providing input, you are now the decision-maker.”

“It’s good to be in that position, but it also makes you cautious. You want to make sure you make the right decision. So you go in with an open mind, hearing all points of view and getting input from all levels before making any determination. And once you make the decision, you stand by it. You can’t be wishy-washy because it will affect how you are viewed as a leader. That was something I saw in the military through different commanders. If you couldn’t make the decision, you shouldn’t be there.”

With the launch of the new sbX rapid transit service only 9 weeks away, much of Diane’s attention is on making sure the line runs smoothly.

“sbX is a bit of a challenge because it’s new and unknown,” she explains. “Our focus is on being prepared, anticipating any issues that might arise and staying flexible so that we can adapt as needed. Right now it’s all about testing, running those coaches up and down, working with traffic lights and station platforms. We’re working on sbX coach operator training next month, so I’m excited for that.”

“Our training team is very good. They had to train themselves on sbX because they have to be the experts. Next they will be training the Field Supervisors, because they must be able to do everything as well. We have to train from the top down. Every possible thing you can think of, we have to be able to do before we can train the operators.”

“That’s why I made sure that I was able to be trained as well. I have to be able to do whatever they’re doing out there. If I can’t do it, I can’t speak to it. And I have to speak to it. I was excited to drive one of the first sbX coaches that came in. I think it’s even smoother than the 40-footer—you don’t feel the bumps in the road quite as much. You’d think there would be a drag, but there’s not. It just glides and follows. Although it’s kind of trippy when you’re making a turn and you see the back end of your coach in the mirror!”

You can read more about Diane and some of the interesting stories from her military career here.

- Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Have an Omnitrans story of your own to share? Let us know!

 

Graham Named CEO/GM at Omnitrans

Former Marine, Scott Graham named Omnitrans CEO

Scott Graham, Omnitrans CEO/General Manager

(San Bernardino, CA) The Omnitrans Board of Directors appointed Scott Graham as CEO/General Manager effective February 5, 2014, eliminating “interim” designation from his title after eight months on the job.

Graham was appointed Interim CEO/General Manager in June 2013 following the resignation of then CEO/General Manager Milo Victoria. He joined Omnitrans in 2006 as Director of Operations, overseeing a department of over 400 employees responsible for delivering fixed route bus service to the San Bernardino Valley. He previously worked at the Orange County Transportation Authority for 12 years.

As Interim, Graham implemented cost saving measures including organizational changes, reduction of healthcare expenses and cost containment of professional services. He also focused on the deployment of the new “sbX” bus rapid transit service line.  “We are excited to be launching this new flagship service in late April, on time and under budget,” said Graham.

Prior to embarking on a career in public transportation, Graham spent 26 years in the US Marine Corps, serving in progressively responsible positions in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the United States.  He earned a Master of Transportation Management from San Jose State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from East Carolina University.

Omnitrans currently employs about 640 people directly and has 220 contracted employees. Annual ridership tops 16 million on 32 bus routes and paratransit services combined. The agency fleet includes 177 transit coaches and 105 vans and minibuses for demand response.

- Wendy Williams, Director of Marketing
   wendy.williams@omnitrans.org 

Planning intern presents at D.C.conference

Omnitrans planning intern Edson Ibanez recently had the opportunity to travel to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference in Washington D.C.  The annual conference engages more than 7,000 scientists, and other transportation researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors and academia, all of whom contribute their expertise in the public interest by participating on TRB committees, panels, and task forces.

“This was my first time in D.C. It was really exciting to have the opportunity to talk with the executive directors from TRB and meet Anthony Foxx, the US Secretary of Transportation. I also liked learning about up and coming topics like Bus Rapid Transit, which is something I’m very interested in—especially with our upcoming sbX launch later this year. It was interesting seeing how BRT has been adapted all over the world, Although it’s just now getting here to the states, it’s been very popular in other countries for a long time.”

A TRB Minority Fellows scholarship covered Edson’s registration and travel expenses to the conference where he presented his academic research in the form of a poster titled “Integrating Transportation Hazards in Hazard Mitigation Plans: Findings in California Cities,” which compared hazard mitigation plans of 10 large California cities and offered recommendations based on his findings. He believes it is important for cities to partner with transportation agencies to integrate a transportation hazard component at the local level within their hazard mitigation plans.

Professor Richard Willson (Department Chair
of Urban and Regional Planning at California
State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and
Edson pose for the TRB Minority Fellow Program.

“Los Angeles and San Francisco both demonstrate a transportation component within their hazard mitigation plans, and I believe they could be used as a template for other cities. Looking at climate change is important as well. Studies have shown that we will be seeing a significant rise in sea level in the next 50-100 years which can impact our coastal regions. Heat waves are another concern as sustained increased temperatures can melt certain rail lines.”

Edson’s goal is to one day work as a transportation planner.

“My passion is public transit and social justice. What can we do for the working poor? What can we do for the urban poor? How can we better accommodate our services for low income minorities? Something that can provide an option for me to work on these issues would be amazing. I’ve been at Omnitrans for about 5 months now, and I really enjoy the experience I’m getting. One of my recent projects was analyzing ridership data for Route 365 and actually going out on the route and riding it. We were looking at possibly extending it to a residential community to better serve high school students in that area—basically adding a tripper. We also had to see how it would affect route time. After researching it, we were able to determine that it would not have a significant impact on route time, so we will be implementing the change in an upcoming service plan.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Omnitrans Coach Operator Lorina Le’Roy

Do company wellness programs really make a difference? It did for Lorina Le’Roy who was honored this month as the Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter for her dedication and caring in her role as coach operator and for her contributions in creating a positive workplace environment.

When Lorina had her health numbers checked at the Omnitrans Wellness Fair two years ago, she was surprised to learn that her blood pressure was high and her blood sugar was out of control. The health care representatives from Kaiser suspected diabetes and recommended that she schedule a visit with her doctor as soon as possible. Since she hadn’t had a complete physical in some time, Lorina took their advice and decided to go ahead and set up a full checkup.

During her medical visit, Lorina happened to mention to her doctor that she was suddenly lactating for no apparent reason. The doctor immediately brought in two specialists who explained to her that lactation not associated with pregnancy or childbirth is often a sign of a brain tumor.

A CAT scan showed that Lorina had a benign tumor about the size of an eraser tip in the front crease of her brain. The doctors told her it was very normal and not something she should be afraid of. They did want her to come in every six months, however, to be sure it didn’t get any bigger. If they started to see growth they could give her pills to help shrink it or they could go up her nasal cavity to remove it surgically. They tested her vision and cleared her as safe for driving.

“I go for an MRI every 6 months, and so far everything’s been fine,” says Lorina. “I don’t worry about it anymore. It’s the diabetes that worries me. I found out I had high blood pressure, needed to take cholesterol pills, was diabetic and had a brain tumor all in that one day.”

It was a wake-up call that she needed to start taking care of herself.

“My diabetes was uncontrolled for the longest time. I finally got it under control by eating healthier and walking . A lot of us girls around here just recently started exercising, and there’s about 11 of us who have bet going on.  Whoever loses the most weight gets a spa treatment. Sometimes it’s hard and I’ll call one of the girls and say I’m not doing so good. She’ll say I’m not either—and we talk and laugh. It’s good because I know it’s not just me. We all struggle with our weight–especially bus drivers—because we sit all day long. You sit and snack and most of the time don’t eat healthy. I was telling one of the girls that it’s funny how your lunch bag is too small for healthy food. Yet when you eat crap it’s the perfect size. My lunch bag is always overflowing because I bring an apple, a pear, carrots and a salad.”

“The Omnitrans Wellness Fair really opened my eyes. Thank God I went. Everything was really out of whack, and I never would have known. I was ignoring a lot of symptoms. For years I had been telling my doctor that I was having migraines. We tried all kinds of treatments but nothing worked. At one point he even wanted to give me shots in my skull! No way was I ready for that! It turns out my migraines were actually caused by the tumor.”

In addition to making healthier lifestyle choices, Lorina found she had a renewed sense of purpose.

“When you find out something that horrible about yourself, you want to somehow make things better.  For me, it became about work. At the time, morale was very low. People were coming to work always down, never really feeling alive. My whole thing was to try to uplift everybody. You start thinking what can we do to make the world better? How can we make it happy? How could we make everybody one?”

“It started with cleaning. I’ve always been a cleaner. You know how it always makes you feel better about yourself when you clean your house your car? First I did the windows in dispatch, then the tables in the drivers’ room. Then I went to the kitchen and thought we really need some condiments in here. I starting buying small things for the lunchroom: condiments, napkins, forks spoons and knives. It’s the kind of thing most people really appreciate. Occasionally the supplies run low, and people will ask where this thing or that is. But then it makes me feel good because they say ‘Where’s Lorina? She hasn’t been to work because it’s empty in here.’” Lorina laughs.  “I did it mainly for me. Some people tell me it’s a waste of my money. But it’s not. It’s important to me and makes me feel good.”

“It’s why I like doing the decorations. It’s a way for us to mark the holidays. Years used go by and nobody could remember what we did last Christmas. We all work, work, work , work and then we lose track of things. Especially last year around this time, when a lot of drivers were working seven days a week. Some of them just work, go home and go to sleep. They’re not going to the store or out shopping and it’s easy for them to forget the holidays are coming up. So this is a way to just boost up everybody and get them involved. It does make a difference. The Christmas tree decorating contest we recently did was so much fun for everyone, that they’re already talking about what they want to do next year! It’s really created a sense of community.”

“It is so exciting to get Employee of the Quarter. What really blew me away was that a lot of drivers really wanted me to have that award–it me feel really loved and supported. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of people from all the different departments by doing the potlucks and decorations, and I really enjoy that.  We never really interacted a lot before, and now we do. We’re all Omnitrans, and we do this job to help serve our community. It’s a good feeling.”

Omnitrans CEO Scott Graham (left) and Board Chair Alan Wapner (right) present Lorina with the Employee of the Quarter Award

Having worked for Omnitrans for more than 16 and ½ years, Lorina believes there are good opportunities here for people who might be having a difficult time finding work or who don’t want a traditional desk job.

“I would recommend being a coach operator to anyone. It’s actually a great professional career for someone who might not have a lot of education but who needs a good paying job.  If you enjoy driving and have great people skills, this is the job to come to. If you can drive a car, you can drive a bus, you really can. “

Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Employee of the Year: Benito Zavalza

Omnitrans CEO Scott Graham (left) and Board Chair Alan Wapner (right) present the Employee of the Year Award to Benito Zavalza and his proud daughter Dahlia.

Some people go to work to make a paycheck. Others, like Omnitrans coach operator Benito Zavalza,  see it as an opportunity to make a difference. Although he has only been with the agency for 15 months, the quiet young man has earned a reputation for exceeding performance standards and providing unparalleled customer service to his passengers.  This month he was honored with the Employee of the Year Award.

“When I first came here I knew nothing about transit,” says Benito. “I was just happy to have a job and a way to support my family.  Now I find myself thinking about ways to make things better.  How can we get more people to ride the bus? How can we improve what we do?”

Omitrans bus driver Benito Zavalza

While driving his routes, Benito does what he can to make transit a better experience for both passengers and coach operators. He reports potholes and other potential hazards and suggests bus bench locations for waiting passengers. When he works Sundays, he reminds his riders of the reduced Sunday schedule to ensure they make their connections. Currently he is working on an invention to reduce the window glare coach operators sometimes have to deal with.

“I see passengers and coach operators as a team,” Benito explains. “If we work together, it benefits everybody.  For instance if passengers know how to have their money ready, understand how to read the bus book and so on, it makes everything much easier. When they’re not ready it slows us down and impacts service. My goal is to help educate my passengers so when they board the bus, they’re ready to go. I ask people all the time if they have any questions about where they’re going or how to get there. Here’s an example. One night I was driving the Route 3 and was running 4 minutes ahead of schedule because it wasn’t busy. One of my passengers asked when the bus arrives on Saturday. I gave him the information he needed and showed him how to read the bus book. I made a deal with him that if he would study pages 9 and 10, the next time I saw him I’d ask him a question about that route and see if he could answer. And you know what? He did!”

Benito has received numerous customer commendations over the past year. His passengers describe him as friendly, professional, courteous, kind and knowledgeable, greeting everyone with a smile and a thank you. And, more than once, the coach operator’s calm, respectful demeanor and quick action has helped defuse potentially volatile situations. People matter to him and it shows.

Benito would love to one day be involved in special projects focused on customer service and community outreach where he could share some of his experiences and try out new ideas. Like possibly spending time at transit centers, answering questions and showing people how to read the bus book. Benito’s passion for what he does is contagious. We are glad to have him on our Operations team.

Read how Benito got his start and why it’s important for him to pay it forward by helping others.

Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Going strong for 35 years at Omnitrans

This past October, finance clerk Teresa Padilla celebrated her 35 year anniversary with Omnitrans.

In an age when most people spend an average of 4.6 years working for the same company, it’s quite an accomplishment. Even at Omnitrans, where the average employee stays for 12 years, Teresa is an anomaly. What’s her secret?

“I love what I do, and Omnitrans is like family to me,” says Teresa simply. “I started here as the first dispatcher for our special transit service in 1978. I’ve known most of my co-workers for years, and I care about them. They’ve become an important part of my life, and we share a history. Many of us have seen this agency grow from a little office trailer in a gravel bus yard to a modern building with a fleet of 164 coaches. It’s amazing when you think back and realize how far we’ve come.

Today Teresa works in our finance department. She enjoys her job and is proud of the level of confidence her bosses have in her. She handles all accounts receivable, and it’s a position of trust she takes seriously.

She also likes the fact that Omnitrans is willing to invest in its employees through on the job training and education. “When I first started here in ’78, there were no computers. When technology grew and they became an essential, everyday part of the workplace, I learned those skills from my peers and supervisors. They taught me well, and I know my job because of it. I’m also a member of the agency’s Toastmasters group, which has helped immensely in improving my speaking abilities. I’ve gained more confidence and use a lot fewer ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ when I talk now!” she laughs.

Teresa Padillo hands out samples of her famous low-cal soy chorizo burritos & Carmi Lopez pours a healthy smoothie at the Omnitrans Wellness Fair.

Over the past year, Teresa has taken on a leadership role as a health advocate in the Omnitrans Wellness Program. Her lunch classes, which featured a mix of food sampling, educational materials and funny, down-to-earth conversations about healthy choices, were among the best attended in the agency.

“It was a fun way to get people to try new things and just share some great tips,” says Teresa. “I knew that some of these people would never even think about buying foods like hummus or kale at the grocery store in a million years. It just wasn’t something they were familiar with. But when I brought items into class for people to try, they loved it. We sampled everything from kale chips to chorizos and learned healthy alternatives to some of their favorite foods.”

A winning combo of educational materials, great conversation and food sampling made Teresa’s lunch & learn classes on nutrition and fitness very popular.

Teresa is probably most proud of her role as a union rep for the teamsters. “I’ve learned so much, in particular the importance of maintaining a balanced overview. You have to treat people with respect, know all the facts, and always work for a solution. A lot has to do with getting along with other employees and remembering there is always time for laughter, being personable and smiling. That’s all it takes to make friends. I’m fair but I’m also not afraid to call people on their stuff if they are wrong. They respect me for that, and I’ve never had a problem.”

To Teresa, Omnitrans means more than just a job. It is a constant source of pride. “The service we provide is so important to the people in our community, and I’m proud to be part of that.”  She smiles, “It feels good to know you’re helping to make a difference.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson
junocarlson@omnitrans.org

Do you like this story and want to use it for your blog or newsletter? All our stories may be freely re-posted and shared with others!