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It’s Not His First Roadeo

by Janice Kuhn, Marketing Specialist

This not his first Roadeo.  It’s only his second.  However, Coach Operator Benito Zavalza has proved he can handle the heat of the competition.

During the American Public Transportation Association’s International Bus Roadeo, an event which tests a bus operator’s driving skills, Zavalza placed a historic second at the event – Omnitrans’ highest ranking in the history of the competition, which typically pits an average of 40 drivers from transit agencies all over the United States and Canada. 

Benito at the International Roadeo

Zavalza’s path to international success started on home turf, so to speak, at the Omnitrans Bus Roadeo in October 2015.  To even qualify to participate, drivers must have a good attendance and safety record.  Drivers are given 7 minutes to complete an obstacle course that puts them through the paces of completing right and left turns, backing up and cornering, all within the narrow lanes of strategically placed orange cones.   Judges are placed throughout the course to score each portion of the competition.  And if that’s not stressful enough, there are judges onboard each competitor’s bus, recording the driver’s actions.

A category for non-Class B driver’s license holders, and for Maintenance staff, is also held, and a friendly competition amongst office staff is an annual thing, with everyone coming out of it with a stronger appreciation for the skill that driving a bus demands.  However, the driver’s portion is the one to watch, since the winner proceeds on to the Regional competition.  Zavalza placed first in the agency competition, and went on to compete in the Regional competition in April, where he placed second.

 “Some people might say that the Regional doesn’t matter, since drivers are guaranteed a spot in the International if you win first place” said Zavalza, “I saw it as a chance to so see what I could do under more pressure.”

Although he was pleasantly surprised by his second place victory in the Regional, he vowed to do better.  He spent hours studying the results of the Regional competition, analyzing his score, cone by cone.  Traveling over 50 miles each way from his home in Yucaipa to the Montclair bus yard, Zavalza regularly put in 3-4 hour practice sessions, calling upon whomever was willing to help set up the course, and give advice.

Advice from experienced Operators, as well as new ones, was also something he vigorously sought. 

“I was very open to feedback, good and bad,” said Zavalza.  “Rick Alvarez (a former long-reigning agency Roadeo champ), and our training and safety staff really helped me to hone my skills.”

His mission to improve his skills oftentimes came at odds with his desire to spend time with his family, which Zavalza says is just something he has learned to juggle.

“My father had a saying, if you do something, do it right,” recalled Zavalza, with tears in his eyes.  He recalls that his late father often worked 2-3 minimum wage jobs at a time to help make ends meet for his family of nine.  “Now that I have my own family, I try to do the best I can in whatever I do for my family.”

Benito Zavalza and family

On the day of the final International competition in North Carolina, he learned that his daughter, who had stayed at home with family, had a fever.  He and his wife Heidy monitored the situation and determined it was not serious, but he admits his first reaction was to leave.

“I almost said, ‘I can’t do this, I need to go home,’” said Zavalza.  “But I remembered a driver who competed last year who had just lost his mother during the competition.  He kept going, and I admired his dedication.”

After his win, Zavalza could not wait to get back home to his family.  “I just wanted to get home and hug my babies,” said Zavalza.

Five days after his win in North Carolina, he was out on the road in San Bernardino, patiently instructing a group of coach operator students.

“I’m taking the things I have learned and paying it forward,” said Zavalza.  “I think you can learn from anyone.”

 

 

APTA Applauds Passage of Transportation Bill

Statement by APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy:

“On behalf of the 1,500 members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), we commend the Congress for passage of a bi-partisan surface transportation bill titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP21)”.  Previously, the public transportation industry was operating under nine short-term extensions of the surface transportation authorization since 2009.  MAP21 provides for stable funding for public transportation for two years and will go through September 2014.  This new bill will provide for a greater degree of certainty for public transit agencies and private sector businesses as they maintain, plan and implement public transportation projects.  It includes improvements to keep our systems in a state of good repair; streamlines delivery of public transit projects; provides funding for new start projects and for a bus replacement and a bus facility program.

We urge the President to sign this bill into law because investing in public transit is essential to creating American jobs and boosting our economy.  We applaud the Congress for moving forward a measure that will have a great impact on the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation everyday for their transportation needs.  We look forward to working with the Congress and Administration as we help implement this jobs bill for the nation.”

Public transit ridership soars in 2012

According to an article in USA Today, transit agencies across the nation are showing record or near-record ridership for the first quarter of 2012. The American Public Transportation Association(APTA) announced bus ridership increased in 34 out of 37 large cities. Omnitrans saw an 8% increase in ridership for January February and March.

“High gas prices were part of the reason for this large first quarter ridership increase,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.  “More and more people are choosing to save money by taking public transportation when gas prices are high.”

Get a FREE ride on Omnitrans!
Are high gas prices getting you down? Thinking about making the move to public transit? Visit the Omnitrans website for a printable coupon that will allow you to ride the bus for free on national Dump the Pump Day, June 21st. You can also find a free ride coupon in the Sunday, June 17th editions of the San Bernardino Sun and the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Proposed Bill Threatens Public Transit Funding

Since 1983, nearly half of all public transportation funding has come from the federal motor fuels tax dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund. This funding structure provides highway and transit programs with secure, dedicated revenues which Omnitrans and other transit systems around the country rely on to maintain their services, create jobs and foster economic growth.

Under the proposed House bill H.R. 3864, the federal American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Financing Act, dedicated federal fuels taxes for public transit funding would be eliminated. Highway and transit programs would receive no funding after 2016, following a one-time appropriation for 2013-2016

The proposed changes would have dire consequences for Omnitrans and the thousands of people in the San Bernardino Valley who rely on public transit. Our agency depends on FTA funding for bus and equipment purchases, preventive maintenance and construction projects such transit centers, operating facilities and the sbX bus rapid transit line. We will provide16 million trips this year for riders, including 2.4 million trips for students and over 3.3 million trips for seniors and persons with disabilities. The proposed legislation will have a huge impact on their freedom and quality of life.

Please visit the American Public Transportation Association at www.apta.com to learn more about this bill and how you can take action.

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