It all started with bad news.
Omnitrans’ travel training bus program was the first-of-its-kind for a transit agency when we introduced it a year ago. Since then, we have introduced 750 people to public transportation, and generated nearly 350 trips. But the program was inspired a bit more by frustration than inspiration.
“Omnitrans wanted to explore the travel training concept for some time, but we just didn’t have the resources, and it became obvious that our budget wasn’t going to allow individualized training for quite a while, if ever,” shares Community Outreach Specialist Nicole Ramos. “At the same time, I was going out and conducting group presentations with just me talking – boring! And the question I was asked most, ‘Can you bring a bus out here with you?,’ I always had to answer ‘No,’ because our fleet buses all are committed to routes or reserves.”
Nicole started thinking – “wishing, really,” she says – about how nice it would be to have a bus that was dedicated just to community outreach. And if there were a dedicated bus, then couldn’t it be modified a bit to allow videos to be shown and presentations to be made on board? And then, since there is a bus and it seats 40, couldn’t you use it to do some group travel training?
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” Nicole says. “I was talking to my director about it and said, ‘I’d like to do this someday,’ and she said, ‘Why not now? Look into grant opportunities.’ So I did.”
Seven months and one Federal Transit Administration JARC/New Freedom grant later, the travel training bus rolled into being. Omnitrans used a 40’, fixed-route bus that had been scheduled for retirement. A new farebox was purchased for the bus, along with video monitors, a DVD player/radio system, and wireless microphone. The training session incorporates an agency video, a brief presentation, hands-on practice with features including the farebox, stop requested and enunciator systems, and plenty of Q & A time. Audiences can include senior citizens, students, people with disabilities, and commuters.
Of course, no project succeeds alone. Though the idea began in Marketing, Omnitrans’ Operations department also is a partner in the project; its fleet safety and training instructors drive the bus to presentation locations and answer procedural questions. Valley Transportation Services (VTrans), a new local agency which provides one-on-one travel training for seniors and people with disabilities, also participates in training sessions for those who may need additional assistance.
Plans for the program include an updated, more interactive, bilingual training video, additional vehicle equipment, and expansion to new audiences including middle schools. There have been some ups and downs – “I once drove people from the bus with my horrific microphone feedback, and we’ve loaded folks into a bus for a ride to show them how wonderful public transit is in a bus with a dead battery,” laughs Nicole – but all in all, Omnitrans is pretty proud of its first year of service. As Nicole says, “At the end of the day, more people are trying the bus, and that’s what it’s all about.”
About The Omnitrans Travel Training Bus Program
Omnitrans is the only transit agency to have its own Travel Training Bus designed to educate people in new rider basics. The training bus and outreach trainer are available by request to local community groups of including seniors, students, commuters, and those with special needs. Here are the particulars:
- Travel training is FREE!
- Travel training is group training, and designed for groups of at least 12
- Travel training can be scheduled Tuesday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
- The training presentation lasts approximately 45 min. – 1 hr.; limited customization is available depending upon group needs
- Community members who attend and participate in the full training presentation will receive a complimentary Omnitrans bus pass
For further information, or to schedule a travel training session, please contact Community Outreach Specialist Nicole Ramos at (909) 379-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.