Tag Archives: omnitrans bus driver

Employee of the Quarter, January-March 2017

For Field Supervisor and Employee of the Quarter Tiffany Barnes, persistence is the name of the game. Having started her career with Omnitrans as a Coach Operator 12 years ago, Tiffany has always looked forward to continuing her growth within the agency. She not only wishes for a lucky break to happen, she diligently chases her goals and creates opportunities for herself.

In the first quarter of this year, Tiffany held three different positions in the Operations department, simultaneously: sbX Coach Operator, Relief Field Supervisor, and Relief Dispatch Supervisor. “Tiffany is an operator who has shown perseverance and determination,” says Director of Operations Diane Caldera. “She is utilized in all of her positions, doing very well in each, and is an excellent example of succession planning.”

“I’ve been trying to be a Field Supervisor for five years now,” says Tiffany, who would like to move upward at Omnitrans as far as she feels prepared to go. “I’ve tried and put in maybe four or five applications before becoming Relief Field Supervisor. Around that same time, I got Relief Dispatch Supervisor, so I held three positions at once.”

Tiffany faced a challenge in adjusting to three roles, but was able to take it in stride. “My schedule was all over the place!” she laughs. “That’s the challenge that I’ve faced. Getting the hang of things came naturally and everything fell into place. Everything meshed well together while juggling the three positions, but the irregular schedule was tough at first.”

It may seem like a daunting balancing act, but Tiffany is no stranger to multitasking. The mother of two boys, 5 and 12, decided to become a full-time college student to advance in her career. “I decided I needed to go to school to get a full-time Field Supervisor position. I enrolled and got a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “This July I’ll be going back for a master’s in business administration.”

Employee of the Quarter Tiffany Barnes (second from right) is congratulated by (from the left) CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham, Director of Operations Diane Caldera, and Board of Directors Chair Sam Spagnolo.

In March, while in the capacity of Relief Field Supervisor, Tiffany’s leadership skills had the chance to shine as she and other staff members responded to a customer’s life-threatening emergency at the San Bernardino Transit Center.

While mitigating the situation, Tiffany collaborated with 9-1-1 dispatchers, Omnitrans security officers, and customer service staff at the transit center. As smoothly as possible, she had the facility evacuated, while also coordinating with customer service and Omnitrans dispatch to adjust our transportation operations as necessary during this time.

“As a supervisor, I had to get the facility cleared and locked down. It was a good team effort and we did the best we could in the situation. It was challenging but I felt prepared for it after my training at Omnitrans,” she says.

The situation was new for Tiffany, who was able to remain calm and level headed to figure out the best way to approach the situation and have it handled properly. Prior to Omnitrans, Tiffany had worked in the medical field, which taught her the importance of maintaining composure during an emergency. She also gives kudos to the SBTC customer service staff and security team for their great crisis management skills.

“Customer service and security were awesome! It was a team effort, so I give kudos to them. I had customer service call dispatch to reroute the buses, and they helped to lock down the facility. It was just great synergy and teamwork.”

The day the Omnitrans Board of Directors recognized her as Employee of the Quarter in May also happened to be Tiffany’s first day in her new and sole position of Field Supervisor, the job that for five years she had been striving for. “It’s tough getting turned down, but I never gave up,” she says. “I don’t believe in giving up on myself or my goals. So that’s what I will continue to do.”

Omnitrans has become “home” for Tiffany, so it is no surprise that she is committed to her job. She has a deep respect for her colleagues who she considers like family, and has love and passion for helping the people that we serve. “I love people and believe treating people the way you would want to be treated whether they’re homeless, or different than you. That’s what I live by and teach my children,” she says.

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.

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.”

 

 

Omni Team Effort Reunites Missing Man with Family

Sixteen-year veteran Omnitrans Coach Operator (CO) Derman Redman was taking break one recent day at the San Bernardino Transit Center, and stopped to catch up with fellow CO Urbanita Ramon. She mentioned a flyer that she’d seen, asking for help finding a missing local man with developmental disabilities. He’d been away from home for two weeks.

“It lay heavy on my heart,” said Urbanita. “My brother is physically and mentally disabled, and I feel a kinship to people who live with disabilities. That’s what made me share the information with my fellow drivers – I even posted it online to help get the word out.”

The story also captured Derman’s attention, and he asked what the man looked like so that he could keep an eye out for him. Urbanita’s description sounded familiar; when she showed Derman the photo from the missing person flier, he couldn’t believe it.

“I know that guy!” said Derman. He recognized Roger, a regular passenger from his days driving Route 10. “But two weeks, wow. That’s a long time. Who knows what could have happened by now?”

                                               Derman Redman

Derman went on his way, but the story stayed with him all day, through his shift, and that night at home. Roger rode Derman’s bus for almost 10 years, and they had developed a good rapport.

“He was always friendly and nice,” Derman remembered. “Very quiet, but he would give you the shirt off of his back if you asked him.”

At work on his route the next morning, Derman pulled up to a stop and opened the doors as usual. There was a man waiting who looked a bit the worse for wear – his socks were muddy, and his hair was long and unkempt. But Derman thought he recognized him. He did a double take. Yes, he was pretty sure – the man was Roger!

“To be honest, the thought crossed my mind, ‘Did I summon this guy?’” Derman said. “I couldn’t move at first. Then I went up to him and asked, ‘Roger, is that you?’”   

Roger simply said, “Yes,” as if all was normal.

“Are you lost?”

“No.” Very firm.

“Are you sure you’re not lost?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“When was the last time you went home?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sure you’re not lost?”

“I’m trying to get home right now,” Roger said. But Derman realized that he was at the wrong bus stop.

At that point, Derman decided to take action. Asking his bus full of passengers to “please wait, I’ll be right back,” Derman told Roger to “sit tight, and don’t move.”  Trusting Derman, Roger stayed put. Derman ran as fast as he could into the transit center, to find Supervisor Ricky Williams. He burst into the break room, out of breath, shouting “Ricky, I found that guy! The missing guy!”

Running back out to his stop to check on Roger and his passengers, Derman saw the missing person flyer on Roger hanging from the fence.

“I kept looking at the flyer and at the man. Could it really be him? And it was,” said a relieved Derman.

Ricky contacted Roger’s caregiver, Brigette Flowers, who drove all the way from Riverside to pick him up. She and her husband had been out looking for Roger every night for 12 days. He now is reunited with his family and recovering well from his ordeal.

“We got lots of calls during that time from people who said they saw Roger, but we never could pin him down,” Brigette said. “It’s drivers like Derman who see people like Roger every day, and care about them.”

Brigette isn’t Derman’s only fan. When he arrived home that night, he told his family about what had happened during his eventful day. “Daddy, you’re like a hero!” his daughter said.

“No, we just do a lot of things out there,” said Derman, trying to play down his role. But she wasn’t having it. “No, Daddy, anything could have happened to that man. You did a good thing.”

Omnitrans bus driver brings calm to chaos

Omnitrans coach operatorCoach Operator Jeremy Aragon was headed downtown on Route 14. When he brought the bus to a stop, he noticed a woman preparing to disembark. Without warning, she appeared to go into a seizure, falling and hitting her head on the rear step.

Passengers rushed forward to try to move her, but Jeremy intervened, warning them that they could potentially injure her. After checking to make sure she was still breathing, he contacted dispatch and requested immediate medical assistance. Jeremy stayed with the woman, telling her that she appeared to have had a seizure and that help was on the way.

“I knew the most important thing I could do at that moment was to monitor her condition so that I could keep the emergency medics updated,” Jeremy said. “I had trained as an EMT so I knew what information they needed. I also cleared the other passengers from the coach so they would have room to do their work without interference.”

The woman seized twice more before the emergency crew arrived, just minutes later. Thanks to Jeremy’s quick action and ongoing updates, the EMTs were well prepared for the situation. The woman explained that she was epileptic and had not taken her medicine for three weeks because she was waiting for a doctor’s prescription. Hooking her up to an IV, the team was able to stabilize her and safely move her from the coach to the ambulance.

Later Jeremy received recognition from Omnitrans for his calm handling of the crisis. But what no one realized was how close to home the situation had been for the young driver.

Omnitrans bus driver

“I kind of knew what to expect,” he admitted. “My mom was epileptic also. It was actually the weirdest thing. As a child, she was hit in the head with an anchor that was hoisted up by a cherry pick. And it caused her to have horrible, full blown grand mal seizures all her life. I’ve been taking care of her since I was three years old. So I’m a bit used to seizures and how to calm them.

“The best thing that you can do is turn them on their side and just rub them. Sometimes they can be disoriented, or even a little bit violent, coming out of it without realizing it. They’ve lost consciousness and don’t remember exactly what happened. Sometimes they have indications, like they’ll start getting hot flashes.

“My mom would stand up, because she could feel them coming on, which is the worst thing you can do. But that was just my mama. She’d say she was hot, and you could see it in her eyes. I’d go, ‘Mom, sit’ –but then she would just go into it. I would try to guide her, even at 3 or 4 years old, putting my arms up to break her fall. There were times when nobody was around, and she would go into a seizure. I would go downstairs to call the paramedics, and they would come out. Then I would do all the wrong things, like answer questions for my mama because I was protecting her.

Jeremy shrugs and smiles. “But you know, it raised me into a responsible young man. I wouldn’t change a thing. My mom is very special to me, and I would do it all over again for her. She tries to do so much for me, even now. When we go over to visit her on Sunday, she’ll have cooked like a 12 course dinner for us. My wife loves her too and goes over to help her out. My mom hasn’t had a seizure now in almost five years, and she’s been totally off the medication for three. The doctors say that she’s basically cured. It’s pretty amazing. God works miracles, I guess.”

Coach operator brings calm to chaos

Jeremy came to Omnitrans two years ago, on the recommendation of a friend at Riverside Transit Authority.

“I’m blessed in a lot of ways. Omnitrans has been everything I hoped for and then some. And my background has actually helped me quite a bit with my customer service and leadership skills. As an EMT, you learn how to bring order to chaos. Before, I had been doing caregiving for elderly patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Going from that to someone who knows what they’re saying and doing gives you a very different perspective on life and people–how we all connect with and treat each other. You learn how to go into any situation and bring calmness to it as soon as possible. The more calm the situation, the better the outcome for the person you’re dealing with, as well as everyone else. Sometimes it just takes gentle talk.”

Jeremy aspires to become an Omnitrans field supervisor, and feels that his ability to assess and diffuse a situation will be an asset. Although he is confident in his ability to handle a crisis, he admits there is one situation he hopes never to have to handle.

“My biggest fear is a baby,” he laughs. “I don’t ever want to have to deliver a baby on a bus. Even just thinking about the equipment I’d need makes me nervous. And there’s no stopping it. I’d almost have to take action. I had one passenger come up to me and say, ‘Hey I’m pregnant and on the way to the hospital.’ I told her, ‘Ma’am, please hold off on the contractions until we get to your destination.’”

Jeremy grins. “She had a pretty good laugh at that, but I was still relieved when she got to the hospital.”

 – Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

sbX Sweepstakes winner pays it forward

Jenn6Jennifer Guerrero, the winner of our sbX Anniversary Sweepstakes, has been riding Omnitrans since 9th grade.  She and her two younger sisters used to rely on their dad to drive them everywhere.  About three years ago he was diagnosed as permanently blind. Since then, their little family has taken the bus wherever they needed to go. Having a bus stop just down the street from them makes it very convenient, and they use NexTrip so they know exactly how much time they have before the bus arrives.

Jennifer is a Route 8 regular, and coach operator Peter Borrero, who drives the first run of the day, is one of her favorites. She likes the fact that he talks and jokes with his passengers.

“It feels nice because it’s such a great way to start your morning,” Jennifer says. “Especially if it’s 5 a.m. and you’re feeling grumpy. The bus drivers are always there, smiling and saying good morning. Sometimes they’ll even say things like ‘I didn’t see you the other day’ or ‘I noticed you were gone.’”

“That totally helps, because sometimes you can’t tell if people notice whether you’re here or not. It’s like you matter. It’s cool. You know the routes and the drivers and they know you. They’ll say ‘Oh, you got Starbucks today! Where’s mine?’” Jennifer laughs.

She also likes the fact that they look after her father. “He feels really comfortable using the bus and is pretty happy about it. The drivers always take care to pull down the ramp for him. Then they wait for him to get into the seat before driving off because they can tell he’ll be scared of the sudden motion. They talk and joke with him just like they do with me so he feels relaxed.”

Her sisters are a high school freshman and junior, and she is helping them learn how to get around. She shares her travel trips for first time riders.

Jenn2

“I would tell someone to get a bus book for sure. And don’t be afraid to ask the bus drivers questions, because they can be really helpful in telling you where you need to get off. The other riders can help too. They’re really nice. You might be asking the bus driver a question, and one of the passengers will say ‘I know where that is! Get off at the next stop and that will make it easier for you to cross the street.’ It’s cool, total strangers helping each other out like that.”

Jennifer is a big fan of sbX. When she can, she likes to take rapid transit line for longer trips because it’s so fast.

“My sisters and I like to sit in the middle so we spin,” she grins. “We try to sit there all the time. We also love the free WiFi. I use it all the time—and, of course, the power outlets. I wish there were outlets on all the buses.”

Jenn5

Jennifer graduates from high school this month and plans to attend Crafton Hills College in the fall. The Omnitrans Go Smart program played a big factor in deciding what college she wanted to attend.

“I originally thought about going to Fullerton Community College,” she explains. “But if I stay here, I’m already familiar with the bus and know my way around. Besides, with the Go Smart program I can ride the bus free with my student ID. Every little bit helps. My boyfriend is also going to school at Crafton, so that played a factor too.”

Jennifer plans to pursue a degree in sign language translation with a double major in math and liberal arts. Her goal is to become a math teacher.

“I want to teach high schoolers because I think it would be more fun, and that they would get my sense of humor. I’m that person who goes all out on Pajama Day or Polka Dot Day.” She laughs.

In the meantime, Jennifer is getting some hands on experience through community service work.

“I’m still friends with my 4th grade teacher, so I sometimes come in to help her out,” she says. “I offer to help the other teachers as well. Sometimes it can be hard for the teachers to keep up with all the work they have to do. So I come in and help them grade papers, put up and tear down stuff. I like doing it, and it gives me some experience.”

Jenn3

Helping others has always been important to Jennifer.  She already has plans on how she will share her Grand Prize winnings which includes twelve 31-day bus passes, four Inland Empire 66ers baseball tickets, four movie passes and a $100 restaurant gift card.

“My dad is a huge baseball fan, so my sisters and I will take him to a 66ers game for Father’s Day. Even though he’s blind, he can still hear the announcer, and we have fun telling him what’s happening on the field. I’m going to take my boyfriend out for a movie and dinner and then take my sisters to a movie and dinner. Everybody wins!”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

 

Preparing for a coach operator career

Whenever a coach operator job position opens at Omnitrans, our HR Department receives hundreds of applications. How will you stand out?

Each time an Omnitrans  coach operator position is advertised, our HR Department receives hundreds of applications.  Yet only about 8% make it through the hiring process.

Surprisingly, most are immediately eliminated for one simple reason. They failed to fully complete the application. Others are weeded out during personal interviews for lack of professionalism. 

“Personal appearance, business etiquette and strong interview skills are absolutely critical for success in today’s competitive job market,” points out author and career coach Patricia Dorch.

Bridge Program instructors Patricia Dorch and Henry Shields

That’s where the Bridge Program comes in. The free 5-day workforce development program is facilitated by Dorch and co-instructor Henry Shields, a former Omnitrans Fleet Safety & Training Supervisor.  Together, they introduce job seekers to potential new careers as public transit coach operators. They also prepare participants for the application and interview process, teaching them how to make a great first impression and brand themselves for success.

“Every single day we were challenged,”says Bridge Program graduate Karena Rojas. ” We created portfolios,  covered everything you can think of in the interview process, and learned skills specific to the job of a coach operator. Everyone who graduated the program with me was happy to be a part of it. It boosted everyone’s confidence, so much so that we are all looking harder for jobs and feel surer of ourselves in obtaining one.”

Are you ready for a new career this year? Bridge Program classes are continuing at the Omnitrans San Bernardino office through January. Space is limited. Click here to sign up today.