Tag Archives: omnitrans bus drivers

Bus keeps Ben rolling and independent

Ben Martin with Omnitrans Fleet Safety & Training Supervisor Don Frazier

One of the things we love best about working in transit is that we get to meet so many interesting people. Passenger Ben Martin is a good example. We had a great conversation when he dropped by the office to get straps installed on his wheelchair.

When I caught up with them, Omnitrans training supervisor Don Frazier had just finished tightening the straps and was testing them with a good yank. He and Ben were joking with each other like old buddies. They had discovered they grew up and went to school in the same neighborhood in LA.  It was an instant bond.

Ben explained he just bought himself this new wheelchair for his 61st birthday. He told us he has been an Omnitrans rider for about 4 years and loves it. It  gets him out of the house and gives him the opportunity to meet new people.

Omnitrans passenger Ben Martin

“My experience so far has been great because Omnitrans helps me to be independent. I buy all-day passes and don’t have to depend on members of my family to come take me or wait for some friend to pick me up. I look at the bus book, see how close it comes to where I want to go and just go. Sometimes I just get on the bus and ride to get away for a while. Three days a week I go for dialysis, and those days are hard.  I feel I just survive. Other days I feel like I could go out and be a Wal-Mart greeter, telling people hey, how ya doing? Come on in and spend your money” he laughed.

Ben told us he was a former Chino prison guard.

Heading for the bus stop

“It’s not something I wanted to do at first,” he said. “I used to play basketball with these prison guards. They would be on me all the time to come work there, but I always said no. At the time I was interested in working with the San Bernardino Marshalls or maybe becoming a lawyer. Then one day a job opportunity opened up at the prison and I saw how good the wages and benefits were. Once I got on, I thought this is not too bad. I worked there for 24 years.”

In 2003, however, he faced an unexpected medical challenge–diabetes.

“I was a macho, Dr. Pepper prison guard,” Ben explained. “You see, if you wore your uniform and went to 7 Eleven, you could get Big Gulps or cups of coffee for free. So I would go in there and get my Dr. Pepper. I was a Dr. Pepper man.  I would put 4 or 5 of them in my Igloo cooler to drink at work. If it was a real rough day, I’d get 3 or 4 more out of the vending machine. But I didn’t know it had all that sugar in it. I’d heard about diabetes and even took a little pill, but I wasn’t aware of the silent workings of diabetes. Sugar is the number one drug in America.”

“One day my big toe started turning dark. I thought it was bruised because I was having problems with my boots, but my ex old lady and my sister made me go to the doctor. They held me hostage at Kaiser Hospital for 47 days. They took my toes off and put a vein in my leg to help with circulation which was the problem. Diabetes works on your eyes, your organs, your kidneys, all that. The best thing I always tell people is drink plenty of water and walk. You see, I wasn’t doing a lot of walking. After 24 years, I was in the top 20 in terms of seniority.  I sat at my desk all the time, working the phone and entering the logbook. I sent rookies to do all the running around. Seniority killed me,” he laughed ruefully.

“I was off work for 15 months. I came back right after 9/11. The doctors wanted me to use a walker, but I was too bad of a prison guard to use a walker. I tell people today, man, use that walker when they tell you. It keeps the pressure and stuff off your feet. A lot of guys have that macho ego and they wind up not doing what the doctor says. And that’s what happened to me. The next thing I knew–boom–the doctors were asking me what do you want to do? Do you want to live? Because now we have to remove your other leg. That was a tough week. I told them to take it off. Life goes on. I live for my kids now.”

Boarding the Omnitrans bus

“I like the bus because sometimes I meet people I haven’t seen in years. You never know who is going to get on at the next stop. I’ve met people I knew back in high school or from when I went to Chaffey College. People recognize me. Sometimes I don’t like to be recognized. Sometime someone will shout out, hey man, don’t I know you from Chino? I just yell back yeah man, yeah.” he shook his head laughing.

Coach Operator Amy Prescott prepares to secure Ben’s wheelchair on the bus.

When Ben finally headed out the door to catch the bus, I gave him an Omnitrans cap and thanked him for talking to me. Delighted, he immediately put it on.

“So you think the bus driver will give me special treatment for wearing this hat?” he joked.

“Seriously though, I love Omnitrans. This bus company has helped me to keep rolling.” Ben grinned, “Only in America.”

Secured and ready to roll

 - Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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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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Omnitrans is why I stay in San Bernardino

When their car was totaled in an accident eight years ago, Eric Newton and his wife Brenda decided it was time to forgo the expense of repairing and maintaining a personal vehicle. The two have relied on Omnitrans as their sole source of transportation ever since. They depend on the bus to shop for groceries, pick up medicine or to visit their favorite destination—Victoria Gardens.

“I’ve gotten to know most of the drivers, and they are great people,” says Eric. “I find them to be courteous, friendly and good about helping people who need information. In fact, Omnitrans is one of the reasons we decided to stay in San Bernardino. A few years ago I had the opportunity to move back to Riverside where I grew up but, after riding both transit systems, I really like the bus drivers here. Robin, Ken and Pete are some of our favorites. They don’t just tell you to get a bus book or point you to a sign when you have a question. They’re more courteous and willing to take a moment to help. That really makes a difference.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Eric is confined to a wheelchair, but that doesn’t slow him down a bit. The 55-year-old San Bernardino resident does computer repair and volunteers his time as a youth pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship on E Street.

Eric and Brenda have been married for 19 years. They first met on Thanksgiving Eve when a friend set them up on a blind date. He dropped Eric off at Brenda’s apartment for a quiet evening of drinks and conversation, and the two hit it off right away.

“At the end of the evening, she went to give me her number so I would call her again. I told her I wasn’t going home, that I thought I should stay right there because we made a good pair. She laughed, and I stayed. We were engaged by Christmas Eve and have been together ever since.”

His secret to a great marriage?  “Happy wife, happy life,” he says promptly. “We take care of each other.”

- Juno Kughler Carlson
   juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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Coach Operators: hiring the best of the best

Meet our newest coach operator graduates. Bottom row, left to right- Tondra Williams, Roy Everett, Valerie Nelson, Jeremy Aragon. Top row, left to right- Ron Maestos, Michael Garrett, Israel Eze, Curtis Barry

This month we welcomed our newest group of coach operator graduates. They recently completed 5-6 weeks of extensive training to pass their final tests and join our operations department as full-fledged coach operators.

But before they ever began that training, these aspiring drivers had to undergo an 8-step screening process that identified them as the best of the best of all potential candidates.  Did you know that on average only 8% of the people who apply for the position, actually go on to become an Omnitrans coach operator?

The majority of our applicants hear about job openings by subscribing to our job alerts. Others come to us through employee referrals or as walk-ins. For each opening we receive an average of 250 applicants, yet only around 20 are hired to begin actual training. And out of those trainees, often only half continue past the final exam.

Valerie Nelson (left) proudly shows off the coach operator certificate presented to her by Director of Operations, Diane Caldera (right).

Here’s a quick look at our 8 -step screening process, which helps us select those individuals best suited to become coach operators.

Step 1 – The Application
Surprisingly, many candidates are immediately eliminated in this first step because they have either failed to fill out portions of the application or have neglected to sign it. It is absolutely vital that you provide all the information requested in order to ensure your application isn’t passed over as incomplete.

Step 2 – The Minimum Qualifications
In order to even be considered for a coach operator position, an applicant must be 21 or older and have no more than 2 points within a 3 year period within 10 years of driving time.  A recent (not more than 30 days old) DMV-H6  form must be attached to the application form to even be considered for the position.

Step 3 -The Testing
Omnitrans does extensive testing on all applicants to assess their work ethics, customer service, and driving skills.  Those that pass the examination are placed on an eligibility list for a period of up to 1 year.

Step 4 – The Interview
An interview date is scheduled. When the applicant arrives, they will participate in  two sets of interviews, one with an HR representative and one with our operations department management team. An outstanding work ethic, strong driving skills, and excellent customer service all figure prominently in the selection process.

Step 5 – The Background Check
A background check is completed on all applicants to ensure they are candidates in good standing.

 Step 6 – The Pre-Assessment
Candidates are asked to perform several physical tasks that will determine if they can perform the essential job functions of a Coach Operator.  This could include such physical tasks as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight, simulating the tie down of a wheelchair, and having the ability to walk up and down steps repeatedly.

Step 7 – The Physical Screening
Our Occupational Health Provider administers a DOT physical exam and DOT drug test.  All candidates being considered for employment for all positions within the organization must successfully pass a physical examination and drug test before they are hired.

Step 8 – The Permit
Candidates must obtain a Class B driving permit with air brakes and passenger endorsement prior to employment.

Once a candidate is hired, they  must successfully complete 5-6 weeks of classroom and on the road training before graduating to  full-fledged coach operator. It’s truly an accomplishment of which to be proud!

If you happen to run into any of our new operators on your route, you’ll know that they are among the finest in their profession. Be sure to give them a shout out and say hi. They are looking forward to serving you.

You can view more photos of our graduating class on Flickr.

Thanks to Denise Gibson and Misty Tshilonda in HR for providing background information on our hiring process.

- Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Graduating Coach Operator Curtis Barry is congratulated by his very proud mom.

Interested in a career at Omnitrans? Visit our career opportunities page for a list of open job positions.

One year plus on the bus

I travel Route 22 almost every day. Since I’m a freelance writer, I like to take the bus down Riverside Drive in Rialto to the local Starbucks, which I call “my office,” to write. And what’s so nice about taking the same bus a lot is getting to know the drivers and some of the other passengers. Plus, I get to relax when I travel. No more honking at the driver in front of you because he doesn’t move when the light turns green, or shaking a fist at the driver who turns in front of you. I just relax and let the bus driver handle it! 

Since March 2012, I’ve been riding Omnitrans all over the Inland Empire and sometimes connecting to Foothill transit or Metro into the San Gabriel Valley.  Although I gave up my car unwillingly–thanks to an early morning drive on the 210 freeway in which sleepiness and the center divider got the better of the me–I’ve learned that, not only can I get wherever I need to go on the bus, but I enjoy it!

There are three drivers on that route whom I’ve talked to a bit, and they are always so pleasant.  Pete always greets me with a ‘hello’.  I haven’t been bold enough to ask the names of the other two, but we do joke around a little when I get on or off.  It’s nice to see an amiable face when I travel.  I always try to smile and say hello so that just maybe I can bring a little brightness to their day.

I know from personal observation that the Omnitrans drivers have an often stressful job dealing with the public.  I’ve seen a few situations where the driver is asked a question while they are driving, and they can’t answer fully because they have to pay attention to maneuvering that big bus in traffic.  Passengers don’t always understand, and some can get a bit offended.  But I’ve never seen a driver lose his or her cool.  They’ve always acted with tact and professionalism.

A few times in the last year I’ve had to range a bit farther afield in my bus travels.  It can be nerve-racking when you’ve never been somewhere before, and you’re not sure which way the bus goes, what times it arrives or leaves, or at which stop to get off.  But I’ve got the Omnitrans phone number stored in my call-list on my cell phone, and the agents always answer promptly and can direct me where I need to go.  The online maps and schedules have helped a lot too when I’ve had time to plan my trip ahead.

What I really like is the NexTrip information.  It’s nice to know when I have time to take out my glasses and read at the stop before the bus comes, and when I have to put them away to get out my bus pass!  Plus, before NexTrip started, I had many times when I’d leave my house for the bus stop, and either just miss it or get there way too early.  Now I can check NexTrip online before I leave so that I know exactly when to leave to catch the next bus.  So far, it’s always been extremely accurate.

I highly recommend Omnitrans.  It’s a great way to travel!

- Lynette Ranger, Omnitrans Passenger
lynetteranger@ramblingranger.com

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!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!
Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Coach Operator Spreads Easter Joy!

Coach Operators Darlene from Rte 9, Marie from Rte 29 & 7 and Cherylyn from Rte 4

Everyone is getting into the spirit of Easter in the drivers’ lunch room today!

Omnitrans coach operator Marie Breaux

Omnitrans coach operator Marie Breaux has a 10-year tradition of wearing special hats for every holiday, and for Easter she’s breaking out her bunny ears. She also has big bags of candy to share with her passengers on Routes 29 and  7 today. If you happen to catch her coach today, let her know how much she rocks!

Omnitrans Field Supervisor Roberta Robertson

Omnitrans Field Supervisor Roberta Robertson

What does it take to be a good Field Supervisor? “You have to be a people person,” says Roberta Robertson. “You need to be able to assert authority in creative ways in order to diffuse tense situations.  And it’s important to listen–even if someone is chomping you out. Each individual is unique, and you need to be flexible and adapt to different personalities. You have to be that chameleon.”

Last October, Roberta joined Omnitrans as a field supervisor. Previously she worked part time for the City of Redlands Police Department in their community service division. Her full time job was working with probationary kids in a youth facility where she was a safety and security supervisor. She also has 15 years’ experience as a coach operator and drove buses for OCTA for 12 years. Her strength, she says, is conflict resolution and diffusing situations.

“The most challenging part of the job was coming here as an outside hire and trying to build relationships with the coach operators. It took a little time for them to see that I know my job, that I have high integrity, and that I listen to them and treat them fairly.  One of my roles is to counsel, but I also have to report things that could be a problem or safety issue. We’re all here for a common goal, to provide the best service we can to our customers.”

Mentoring is something Roberta understands well. She’s devoted much of her life to counseling young adults and encouraging them to reach for their dreams. She’s a volunteer in the “Midnight Hoops” basketball program at the Redlands Community Center which provides a supervised, safe haven for youth. “I grew up in the inner city, where there was a lot of gang activity. We lived in a low income neighborhood where people didn’t have any goals and never knew anything other than the street they grew up in.  As a kid I knew early on I wanted something different. I started playing sports and discovered I had a gift for basketball, averaging 30 points a game. It became my ticket out, allowing me to go to college. That’s part of the reason I like talking to kids. I tell them if I can do it, you can do it. But you do have to grab the opportunity when it presents itself.  If you’re motivated, a hard worker and have a desire to get things done there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”

Roberta’s work ethic, self-discipline, versatility and personal rapport provide a strong foundation for her role as a Field Supervisor. The job requires wearing many hats, and often supervisors won’t know from one day to the next what their schedules will entail. They might have to investigate a customer complaint or commendation, serve papers, do a write up, handle a special task they are assigned or even drive a bus if the agency is short-handed. Often they are responding to calls, fixing fare boxes, or addressing customer service issues. Sometimes they are needed to set up detours due to construction. Approximately 7 hours of time each day is spent in the field. The safe operation of buses for both passenger and drivers is always a priority, and the bus agency wants customers to be happy with their experience so they will ride again.

“I’m out of my van more than I am in which is a little different for this culture,” says Roberta. “I don’t take complaints on the street—I guide them to our 800 number for that. But I do walk downtown a lot and talk to people. It’s a good way to build rapport with and get information from the riders who use our buses every day. It humanizes the bus service for them and earns their respect. It makes it easier to do my job. And if something goes down where I need help, they might remember me and have my back. I do the same with the operators. When I check in with a driver in the field, I always greet them with a smile and try to bring them a cold water. How you treat people has a domino effect. If you help them have a great day, that attitude spills over to everyone else they deal with.”

Ultimately, a Field Supervisor’s responsibility is to observe and report. Primarily their investigations are driven by complaints or commendations reported to the Omnitrans customer service line. A Field Supervisor may be assigned go into the field to watch what’s going on and take notes or asked to query video to verify the information received. Both complaints and commendations are investigated thoroughly to ensure their validity and to ensure they are connected to the correct driver. This can be difficult to do because often a customer doesn’t have the operator’s badge ID and coach number. They just have an area and approximate time frame, which takes longer to research. If performance standards are down, it is up to the Field Supervisor to figure out what’s happening.

“It’s hard when you know someone’s job is on the line,” says Roberta. “But it’s about being fair and adhering to the process.

The goal of the agency is to change the behavior through education and progressive discipline. Most of the time guidance and mentoring, along with classes designed to help improve customer service and driving skills, is enough to correct the problem.

“Operators have to understand the type of job they have. I was 21 when I started driving. I was such a little skinny chick, it used to scare people. Passengers would tease me and say ‘Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?’” Roberta laughs.  “It’s an immense obligation to know that you’re responsible for every person on that bus, for how well you’re driving and for how you talk to people. Anybody could be on that bus at any time. Once a mayor was on my bus and I didn’t know it. You don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize your reputation or the reputation of the company you work for.”

–Juno Kughler Carlson

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!

Do you have a great Omnitrans story to share? Let us know!
Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org