Tag Archives: omnitrans coach operator

Coach Operator shares culture, sports & life lessons

Omnitrans Coach Operator Landru Gaviria

Pasadena resident Landru Gaviria has been a coach operator at Omnitrans for the past 11 years.

Formerly with MTA in Los Angeles, he has honed both his driving and customer service skills by facing some challenging situations.

“I was used to a lot of hostile passengers,” he shrugged smiling. “But I know how to handle that. I simply treat them with respect. I imagine I am taking care of my mother, my sister, my relative. I treat everybody like family. That is the secret you know. Have a good personality and show people you care. This way everybody is happy. They respond to that.”

As Executive Board #1 with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Gaviria is also proud to serve as a Union rep.

Omnitrans West Valley Coach Operators

“It has been a great experience for me because it gives me the opportunity to help the drivers,” he said. “They are my brothers and sisters, and I speak for them with my heart. We are the front line for Omnitrans. I have a good relationship with both drivers and management and have faith that we can come together in a way that benefits everyone. I am happy here and glad that I have a job. Times are hard—not just here, but all over the world.”

Gaviria knows about hard times. He came to the States from Lima, Peru 41 years ago when he was just 19-years-old and seeking a better life. He found work and married Juanita, the love of his life and a former neighbor from Peru. Together they had three beautiful children.

Landru and Juanita Gaviria

Landru and Juanita Gaviria

Gaviria’s personal drive, his love of community and his passion for soccer continued to grow and eventually led to an unexpected opportunity as a columnist with a Peruvian newspaper.

“I was a semi-pro soccer player.” Gaviria explained. “People from Peru over here in Los Angeles know me as a soccer player. One day the editor from the Actualidad newspaper came to me and asked ‘Why don’t you write for us, since everybody knows you?’ I said okay, I’ll take the challenge. I began writing about soccer and, later, about news stories from Peru. Now I am a regular writer for the paper on both topics.”

Gaviria never forgot his roots , He decided to use his soccer connections to help other Peruvian children.  He created a non-profit organization called Los Hijos del Porvenir, which serves children ages 5-11.

Los Hijos del Porvenir - Peruvian soccer stars

“Our goal is to keep the children of Peru away from the streets by giving them a relationship with famous, old-time soccer stars. Each year we travel with these “Old Glory” soccer players to Peru to give the children a time of joy with food and entertainment. We help them with cash and, depending on their health, we provide groceries and medicine. We have minimum support from sponsors for these trips, so me and my wife Juanita finance the expenses.”

The Inka Foundation International of Cultura. Still, Gaviria felt there was more he could do for the community he loved. He became President of a second non-profit called The Inka Foundation International of Cultura. Its mission is to advance global awareness of Andean cultural traditions and knowledge. As part of their work, the foundation assists high school students from low income families who are Peruvian descendants living in the United States. The organization provides small grants to help with textbooks or tuition so they can continue their educational studies.

“For me, as a native Hispanic from Peru, it’s been very important to help the youth in their sports and studies and for my own children to have this example in life. I am so proud of my children,” said Gaviria emotionally. ”My daughter, Michelle Martinez, is a Councilwoman for Altadena and Vice-Chair of the California Republican National Assembly. My son Landru Gaviria studied Economics at UCLA and has his Masters in Business Administration. He has given me three beautiful grandsons and is a dedicated father and husband. My daughter Sholeh Arabia is a Doctor in Psychology and specializes in treating children and young adults with autism. They are all living good lives and helping others, and they say that they have learned this from us. This touches my heart and is my proudest achievement. God gave me this gift, and I am blessed. ”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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Omnitrans driver earns National Safety Council Award

Omnitrans coach operator John Barnett and CEO P. Scott Graham

Coach Operator John Barnett and Omnitrans CEO P. Scott Graham

This month, Coach Operator John Barnett was presented with the Safe Driver Award of Honor for the Pacific Region by the National Safety Council.  During his 27 year tenure at Omnitrans, John has logged nearly 50,000 hours and 2 million miles of safe driving.

John Barnett began his career here at Omnitrans in 1988 when he was hired as a part time Coach Operator and within a few months he was promoted to full time.  From the very beginning of his career John displayed great pride, enthusiasm and dedication to his job. He took the time to encourage the new hire coach operators with solid words of wisdom and stressed to them the importance of being a safe driver at all times.

Additionally, John devoted himself to providing great customer service to his passengers, accumulating numerous customer service awards and accolades throughout his career.  His very impressive file contained numerous letters from passengers from all ages and walks of life, each praising his kindness, helpfulness and his commitment to going the extra mile to assist them.

“I treat everyone with respect and courtesy,” John says. “That’s important. And my passengers know that I will always do my best to get them to their destination safely and on time.  People appreciate that. I’ve driven the Route 22 for so long now I’ve gotten to know all the regular riders and have even seem some of them grow up from babies. One little girl who used to ride my bus is now my granddaughter’s kindergarten teacher! You really never know where you might run into someone again, but they will always remember how you treated them.”

In 2010 John became an over the road instructor for new hires entering the transit workforce.  To date he has trained over 80 student coach operators and continues to instill in them the required driving skills, work pride, integrity and compassion to serve the public. He is also a long- standing member of Omnitrans Accident Review Committee, providing sound guidance and instruction on safe driving practices and training procedures.

Omnitrans Coach Operator John Barnett Safe Driving Award

Omnitrans Transportation Manager John Steffon, John Barnett and Fleet Safety & Training Instructor Verretta Johnson

John has been recognized as having well over 10 good years of “Customer Complaint Free Quarters” by our Marketing Department.  He has received his One Million Mile Safe Driver Award and is line to receive his Two Million Safe Driving Award at the end of 2014.

John Barnett continues to demonstrate the highest standards set forth by Omnitrans. He is an excellent example of a coach operator and is valued not only by the agency, but by the customers who board his coach each and every day.  He is a man of honor and integrity.  We are proud of his achievement as a recipient of the National Safety Council Award of Honor for the Pacific Region.

John plans to retire in early 2015. “Omnitrans has been a great experience for me,” he smiles. “And I’m going to miss a lot of people when I go.  But I am looking forward to having the time to relax and  do some traveling with my wife.”

We wish him all the best.

–        Veretta Johnson, Omnitrans Fleet Safety and Training Instructor

Coach operator Cecil Stevens: “People matter”

Omnitrans coach operator Cecil StevensIf you ask Omnitrans coach operator Cecil Stevens what matters most to him in his work, he will immediately have an answer for you.

“Customer service is one of the most important parts of the job,” he explains. “A lot of times when you go someplace, people will treat you like you don’t matter or like they’re too busy to help you out. I don’t like that. People matter.”

Formerly one of our Route 8 coach operators, Cecil is now an sbX driver and coach operator instructor. He emphasizes the importance of keeping a good attitude on the job and taking care of your body. He works out 4-5 times a week in the Omnitrans gym.

“It’s easy to get out of shape when you’re driving,” he says. “You’re sitting constantly. It’s important to get out and walk and exercise every day. It helps out a lot. If I don’t do it, I feel the difference right away.”

Working out is not just about fitness for Cecil. He believes it’s also a great way to clear your head and prepare for a day on the road.

“I try to make sure all my passengers have a good bus ride. I always tell them good morning, good night or have a great day. If they seem upset, I ask if they’re alright. I also pay special attention to first time riders and try to find out where they are going so I can help them out. Then, when I see them on the bus again later, I always ask them how their trip went last time,” he chuckles. “They’re always surprised that I remember them. I want everyone to have a good experience.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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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

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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

Bus driver thwarts attack on teen

Heroic bus driver

Omnitrans Coach Operator Donald Latimore

Coach Operator Donald Latimore has a special radar when it comes to kids and safety.

“I can’t help it—I’m a dad,” he smiles with a shrug. “My son Damarian is 3-years-old right now. I also used to drive school buses for First Student and Durham and worked for a while as campus security for Rialto Unified School District. You learn to pay attention.”

Recently, when he was driving the Route 8 along Lugonia in the evening, he was startled to see someone run into the middle of the street and attempt to flag down passing cars.

“I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Donald says. “At first I was worried it was a drug addict or something, and there was no way I was going to get involved. Suddenly he jumped in front of my bus, waving his arms, and I was forced to stop. I could see that it’s this kid about 14 or 15-years old. He looked absolutely terrified and was crying hysterically. I had a gut feeling that he wasn’t a threat. There was something was seriously wrong though, and he needed help.  When you’ve worked with kids as long as I have, you have a pretty good instinct when someone is safe. So when he came to the side, I opened the door.”

Shaking and in tears, the boy explained that a group of kids had ganged up on him and tried to rob him. One of them had a gun and demanded that he turn over his cell phone. Afraid for his life, the boy had run into the street in a desperate attempt to get help.

Donald didn’t hesitate. “Get in!” he told the boy, quickly scanning the area for signs of the attackers. He saw a group of shadowy figures near the side of the road.

“Come on, kid—get in here NOW!” urgently echoed an older gentleman seated near the front of the bus.

The boy boarded, and Donald closed the door and pulled ahead. His priority now was to transport both the kid and his passengers away from the scene as safely and quickly as possible. “My original plan was to drop him off at the Sheriff’s station in Yucaipa, so I’d know he was safe,” said Donald. “But the kid was able to reach his mom, who arranged to pick him up at a service station along Sand Canyon in Yucaipa. I was just glad I was there to help.”

This month, Donald was honored with the Omnitrans Top G.E.M. Award for his actions in going the extra mile to help someone in distress. Although he simply could have refused to get involved, his attentiveness, compassion and quick thinking in this unusual situation ensured the boy’s safety and prevented what could have been a dangerous altercation.

Donald isn’t easily fazed by the unexpected. He likes dealing with different passengers every day and enjoys the diversity.  “I run a good coach,” he says proudly. “I get along with everybody, no matter who they are. I speak to each person who boards my bus, and I treat them with respect. If you don’t give it, you don’t get it. Respect has to be earned.”

He admits that occasionally he deals with people who can be a challenge. But again, his security training serves him well. “My goal is always to de-escalate every situation. If you remain calm, polite and treat people with respect, they generally respond. The way I look at it, we all have our bad days. If I can be friendly and give a smile and great service to someone who is having a bad day, they tend to remember that next time.”

Donald feels the camaraderie and support he gets from his co-workers also helps a lot. “I love being an Omnitrans Coach Operator better than any other job I’ve had,” he says. “I enjoy the work and I really like the family setting. People here are friendly and look out for you. It’s a great environment with a lot of opportunity for advancement.”

Eventually, Donald would like to enlist in the Marine Corp. He also hopes to go back to school and study to be a U.S. Marshall or a parole office. In his free time he loves going for long rides on his Suzuki street bike.

 – Juno Kughler Carlson

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Coach Operator pays it forward

Benito and his daughter, Dahlia

Before he joined Omnitrans 9 months ago, Coach Operator Benito Zavalza was out of work, knocking on doors, offering to do odd jobs for people so he could support his wife and little girl. He put no price on his help. Instead he asked them to pay him whatever they felt his services were worth.

“I appreciated every single opportunity I was given and it made me a much better person,” said the quiet 24-year-old. “I learned so much along the way. There was one  lady in particular who really motivated me and made me think. When she answered her door and heard what I had to say, she was furious with me. ‘I’m fighting cancer! Why can’t you fight your crisis?’ she yelled and then slammed the door in my face.”

”She totally opened my eyes,” said Benito. “This was someone who was battling for her life! It put my own struggle in perspective. I thought wow—she’s right. I can’t give up hope. I need to ask God to show me the right path and tell me which direction I should follow. The right opportunity will come if I just keep going.”

Although his wife had to work and was unable to attend, Benito’s father-in-law, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were able to bring his daughter Dahlia to see him receive his award.

“Every person I talked to brought another lesson. I met another lady who is very active in her community and likes to keep up on local politics and events. For some reason, she saw something in me and decided to give me a chance. At first I helped her by cleaning up after the neighbor’s cats that would poop on her grass. She loved birds and would also have me clean windows and bird feeders. Eventually I earned her trust and went on to help her with odd jobs inside her home as well. It felt good. She reminded me that part of the joy in achieving something is being able to reach out and help others move up.”

From left to right: Operations Manager Diane Caldera, Board Chair Alan Wapner, Benito Zavalza and Interim CEO Scott Graham

Today Benito pays his experiences forward, serving others as an Omnitrans coach operator. He has received numerous commendations for his friendliness, professionalism, heroism and customer service. This month, he was honored with the Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter award, an accomplishment of which he is very proud. His  3-year-old daughter was there to cheer on her Poppy. “Everything I do is for her, to make her life better,” Benito smiles.

Benito’s goal is to eventually become either a field supervisor or trainer, where he can continue to make a difference and help others on their path to success.

“This is not work to me,” he says smiling. “I love what I do. And if you love what you do you will never work another day in your life.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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First bus ride leads to lifelong friendship

Do you remember your first Omnitrans bus driver? Herman does. In fact, coach operator Frank Uribe made him feel so comfortable that they are now lifelong friends.

“The experience changed everything for me,” says Herman, whose diabetes has left him confined to a wheelchair. “For three and a half years I was bedridden and never left the house.”

His wife Patricia reaches over and squeezes his hand. “It was a hard time for us. I had to fight to get Herman an electric wheelchair. And he was extremely nervous about taking public transportation and being at the mercy of strangers.”

But when they boarded Frank’s bus together for the first time, the driver’s friendliness and humor immediately put them at ease.

“He made Herman feel so normal and got him excited over traveling on the bus. He made it a great experience and really cared about us. Now we go out of our way a lot of times just to take Frank’s bus and say hello. I think he should be nominated for Employee of the Year!” says Patricia. She and Herman give Frank a big grin and he laughs.

“I have to say they are one of my favorite passengers,” Frank admits with a smile. “They are always complimenting me and the other drivers and writing up commendations for us. They really are a great couple, and they make my job a pleasure.”

-Juno Kughler Carlson

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Coach Operator Sings National Anthem

On May 30th, cancer survivor and Omnitrans coach operator Marianne Rose performed the National Anthem at the Inland Empire 66ers baseball game. For Marianne it was an emotional moment. It was a prayer for our country and a heartfelt tribute to her 88-year-old father , Paul Ninichuck, a Marine Captain and Korean War Veteran.

“It meant so much to me that Dad was able to see this,” said Marianne. “He is a humble man who came here from Russia–I am the first generation American in my family. He was a pilot, a ‘Flying Peon,’ instilled with a deep love and respect for this county.  I am so, so proud of him. He always taught us how precious freedom is and how truly blessed we are to live here. This was my way of giving back to him and to all who fought and preserved our freedom.”

Also special to Marianne were the countless hours she spent with her son Jonathan in preparing for her performance.  Jonathan is autistic, and being able to share her love of music with him was especially sweet to her.

“He would play a pretend horn and accompany me while I practiced,” laughed Marianne. “I loved it! When I finally performed it at the game, he stood in the stands and cheered. It meant everything to me.”

The day of her performance, she was all nerves. Bernie, the Inland Empire 66ers mascot, gave her an encouraging hug and a big thumbs up. When she finally opened her mouth to sing, her emotion was apparent to everyone watching.

“Everything I was feeling and was grateful for came flooding out of me,” she said. “It’s a powerful song, and I wanted everyone to really understand what those words meant.”

Afterwards, several of the team players came up to shake her hand. “I’ve never heard it performed that emotionally before,” one of them told her. “Thank you.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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Coach Operators: more than a driver

As Omnitrans CEO Milo Victoria points out, transit is not about buses. It’s about people. “Omnitrans provides a great service to the community. It’s not just about transferring people from point A to point B. We consider our passengers to be part of our family, and families take care of each other.”

This is why every Omnitrans coach operator receives extensive training, not only in customer service and the safe operation of our coaches, but in multiple emergency scenarios as well. They learn to deal with a wide variety of crisis situations from careless car drivers to terrorist attacks. The goal is to be prepared for anything.

Over the past year Omnitrans coach operators have helped with the identification and safe return of elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s. They have acted to save lives of those suffering from heart attacks or diabetic seizures. They have offered assistance to women who appeared to be victims of abuse. They have even come to the aid of small children who were lost or abandoned.

Yesterday, one coach operator had the opportunity to put his emergency skills into action when an officer-involved shooting took place near Hospitality in San Bernardino. See the full story in the San Bernardino Sun. He was driving his bus when he heard the sound of gunfire and his rearview mirror suddenly shattered. This 18 year fleet veteran acted quickly, calmly pulling the bus out of danger, speaking with police on the scene and notifying dispatch.

“I was scared at first,” he said frankly. “But then my training kicked in and I knew exactly what to do. My first priority was the safety of my passengers.”

“This is the whole purpose of our training program,” says Omnitrans training supervisor Don Frazier. “Because our coach operators are so well prepared, their reaction becomes almost instinctive. Ray Lopez, our director of Safety and Security, and his team Brenda Rosas and Mark Crosby do a really remarkable job with annual emergency training. The coach operators are given the skills to handle even the most unexpected situation and are confident in the immediate support and backup they will receive from dispatch and our field supervisors. Being a coach operator is not just about driving a bus. It’s about helping people and coping with the unexpected curves life throws at us every day.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson

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Email juno.carlson@omnitrans.org