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Employee of the Quarter Steve Sisneros

When he is not at work, Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Steve Sisneros basks in the serenity, calm, and quiet of the great outdoors. It is quite a contrast from the urban backdrop of his career at Omnitrans, the public transit provider in the dense, populous, and ever-growing San Bernardino Valley.

“Being out of the city, away from large crowds, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells in nature, standing underneath a waterfall is a rejuvenating experience that can’t be duplicated,” explains Steve, who developed an appreciation for nature in his childhood years, often camping and hiking with his father.

Disconnecting from the world recharges him to be his best, and it seems to cascade into excellence at work. Earlier this month, Steve was recognized by the Omnitrans Board of Directors as the Employee of the Quarter for April-June 2018 for his contributions to the safety and training operations of the agency.

“We are a large agency, with over 600 people, and the award is given four times a year. I did the math and thought ‘Hey, this is pretty cool!’ says Steve, who was surprised upon learning of his recognition. “It’s the second time our department receives this award in the past two years, so it’s nice and encouraging to see that our work is respected.”

A couple of years ago, Steve attended a Transit Instructor Networking meeting hosted by Long Beach Transit. He noticed high-tech, interactive whiteboards in their training rooms, which made training a much more enriching experience. Thinking proactively, he shared the idea of bringing this technology to Omnitrans with his supervisors and the purchasing process began shortly thereafter.

After a few months of shopping around, the new interactive whiteboards were installed in our training rooms, as well as in other departments throughout the agency. The whiteboards allow you to project your computer onto the screen on the wall, and users can draw, make notes, and highlight items on the screen with just the tip of their finger, similar to what sports broadcasters do on TV. This provides a more visually-stimulating teaching experience that incorporates technology and eliminates paper waste.

Aside from refining the training process in the classroom, Steve also completed the Department of Motor Vehicles Employer Testing program in Sacramento and became certified as an official DMV examiner for Omnitrans, saving the agency $85 per person in testing fees.

Steve, who did not have bus driving experience prior to joining Omnitrans 16 years ago, enjoys having a direct impact in passing down his knowledge to future generations of Coach Operators. Prior to joining the Fleet Safety & Training team four years ago, he was a Coach Operator Instructor for nine of his 13 years as a driver, responsible for guiding new operators behind the wheel and out in our service area.

“Our job is very hands-on, so during the training process we have to figure out how each person will best retain information. Will they learn visually via videos or through a hands-on approach? Someone can do really well in the classroom, then get behind the wheel and freak out,” says Steve.

“Others, don’t do as well in the classroom, but when they get behind the wheel are complete naturals. We have to observe how they are going to retain the knowledge and adapt a style to each individual person.”

(From left to right) Omnitrans Deputy CEO/General Manager Erin Rogers, Omnitrans Board of Directors Chair Ron Dailey, Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Steve Sisneros, and Omnitrans CEO/General Manager Scott Graham at October’s Board of Directors meeting, where Steve was presented with his Employee of the Quarter award.

Steve’s techniques for effective training include a lot humor and relaying his personal experience as a driver to the trainees. He considers that one the best assets that he brings to the table. Having the experience to back up his words creates trust and credibility between student and instructor. Establishing trust is paramount when many trainees have never driven a 40 foot bus before!

“You have to empower them and let them know that the bus is not going to do anything that you don’t want it to do. Once we can get them past that point, they are able to implement the tools that we have taught them to safely operate the coach,” he says. “When you can relay anecdotes and real stories from your own experience, then it’s just a matter of time before it all falls into place and they gain confidence needed to drive the bus.”

Steve acknowledges that his success would not be possible without the support of his team. He genuinely loves what he does, and looks forward to retiring at Omnitrans when the time comes. To him, the career longevity of many of our drivers’ 25-plus year careers are a testament to the level of satisfaction that this work provides.

“On the days when the going gets tough, realizing that you’re helping that elderly lady get to the grocery store and those kids to get to school is important. Those are motivating factors and a nice reminder of the meaningful work that we’re doing,” says Steve.

Employees of the Quarter, Keith Lembach and Dan Olaru

sbX Field Supervisor Keith Lembach believes that safety is not just the Coach Operator’s job – it should be everybody’s priority. It is his commitment to passenger safety that earned him the recognition of the Omnitrans Board of Directors as our Employee of the Quarter, in partnership with Body Shop Technician Dan Olaru.

“I always ask people, ‘How many people do you want to see injured today?’ says Keith. “If the answer is more than zero, you need to go home. It’s all of our jobs to promote safety.”

Employees of the Quarter Keith Lembach (center left) and Dan Nelu (center right) are recognized by (from the left) CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham and Board of Directors Chair Ron Dailey at May’s meeting.

Prior to joining Omnitrans two and a half years ago, Keith had acquired 37 years of valuable transportation experience. This includes years driving private charter buses and trucks. As a trucker, he accumulated two million accident-free miles – a remarkable feat in safe driving.

Just prior to Omnitrans, Keith served as safety manager for a transportation company. Seeking to turn around their dissatisfactory safety record, the company asked him to takeover as director of the program.

A desired change in career led Keith to Omnitrans, where he enjoys being out in our service area and interacting with our drivers and passengers. “I enjoy that every day is different. You can’t script this job. Every driver is different, every passenger is different,” he shares.

While driving sbX one day, Keith heard a loud crash near the back of the bus. Immediately, he paused the bus and noticed that a bike had slid all the way to the front of the bus from the bike holding area.

“I walked back and told the passenger that the bike had to be secured onboard. He said that it had been strapped in properly, but that the Velcro straps weren’t strong enough to hold the bike and that it fell out of the storage area,” he explains.

sbX Field Supervisor Keith Lembach begins his day at 5:30 a.m., helping to start the coaches and monitoring bus pullouts as service begins for the day. He checks for mechanical and farebox issues and helps them get resolved as service on the street is a time-sensitive matter.

Keith methodically assessed the bike straps and noticed that they were worn out and unable to hold the bike in any way. During subsequent ride checks, he noticed bikes tipping, falling, or coming completely unstrapped out of the metal racks. He saw the potential danger to passengers and to their property, and took a proactive approach to mitigating the hazard.

“Keith came into the Maintenance office in the body shop and talked to the supervisors about the trouble that he’d run into on sbX with bike racks,” says Body Shop Technician Dan Olaru.

“They asked him to come see me. From there, we walked the bus and he told me what he wanted to achieve. About a week later, I started work on a prototype, which I finished in the same day. We installed it on a bus, and about a month and a half later we were ready to create bike racks for the entire sbX fleet.”

By trial-and-error, Keith and Dan determined the exact measurements of the new sbX bike storage racks. They readjusted heights several times to ensure bikes of all sizes fit without issue. Once the final prototype was tested, no matter how fast the bus accelerated or stopped, the bikes were not going anywhere.

Dan, a 20-year employee of Omnitrans and now two-time Employee of the Quarter, methodically employed his creativity and self-taught skill to design, build, weld, and install a new solution to better serve our bike-riding passengers. He used existing parts from the old bike racks and implemented them into the design of our new, unique bike racks, minimizing the cost of the project.

Dan works to repair minor damage caused to a panel on the rear side of the bus. After sanding the area, he will fill the dents and scrapes, smooth them, and prime the panel before adding a fresh coat of paint.

“In 1989, I was approved for a visa to move to the United States from Romania which was under communist rule,” reveals Dan. “When I arrived, I worked for an asphalt company and then was hired at Omnitrans in 1997. I knew a little bit about body work from doing that on the side, but this is where my skills got much better.”

Now one of two body shop employees, Dan recalls a time in which there were six workers in the body shop. “Whenever we had a little downtime, I used to practice,” he recalls. “I learned a lot of what I know over the years by observing others and asking the right questions.”

“Dan’s ability to install the new racks with minimal changes to the bus is a work of art,” says Maintenance Supervisor Keith Hunt. “Each time, Dan goes above and beyond what was asked of him. We truly appreciate his work ethic and can-do attitude!”

“It’s a different thing to take on every day – challenging things,” says Dan. “But I like that. The challenges are why I am where I am in my career today. I like to see things that I’ve created with my own hands be implemented and approved of by the people around me and by our passengers.”

Employee of the Quarter Ed Cooney

Our dispatchers play a vital role at Omnitrans – they make sure our bus system delivers service by guiding coaches and operators through obstacles from detours to mechanical problems to customer service issues – every day!

Dispatcher Ed Cooney’s strong work ethic and problem-solving skills made him stand out among his peers during the October-December 2017, making him the Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter!

Ed describes the award as a surprising honor that he did not see coming. After 25 years working with Omnitrans, he views this place as his second home, where he is simply happy to be of service to his community through our dedicated drivers.

“I like the people and we’re family here, although sometimes dysfunctional, like any other family,” he laughs. “That’s one of the major motivators. I’ve been put in a position where I can help people, and that makes all the difference.”

After almost six years driving for Metro in Los Angeles, Ed’s adventurous side took over and he decided to go to Brazil where he worked for a year. After moving back home to the States and settling in Montclair, he spotted an Omnitrans bus and chatted with the driver about his job. He was persuaded, and decided to give Omnitrans a try. He switched directions and headed east, this time, on I-10 to apply for a job as a coach operator.

“This entire lot was all dirt,” reminisces Ed as we overlook the East Valley bus yard in San Bernardino. “There was a single bungalow that housed human resources, finance, the CEO. Everyone was in that one trailer. I remember the mechanics had dug a trench, and they would drive the bus over the trench to work on bus maintenance.”

Ed Cooney and a new dispatcher in training go over the Trapeze Ops software used for record-keeping.

As Omnitrans progressed, so did Ed’s career. After five years of driving our buses, he was promoted to a dispatching role in which he has served ever since. Last year, when his supervisor retired, Ed selflessly rose above and beyond his required work duties to take on tasks of the vacant supervisor role. While doing research, Ed discovered software configuration errors, and took the initiative to tackle them himself.

With only four days of informal training, Ed took on the task of solving this problem, working 12-hour days and weekends alongside his peers, I.T., and the software vendor. As a result of Ed’s initiative and manual improvements to the process, the agency was prevented from overspending $10,000.

“I still go in everyday and double check for errors,” he explains. “In this job, I’m not obligated to do this. I could’ve asked management to hire someone that could fix this, but I felt a responsibility to the operators so that things were operating as they should.”

This month, the Omnitrans Board of Directors recognized Ed as our Employee of the Quarter for his diligence in ensuring that the necessary improvements were made and tested prior to live implementation of the software.

“Ed is a recognized leader in the dispatch office and is greatly respected by his peers for his loyalty, ability, and willingness to help others in times of need,” says Director of Operations Diane Caldera. “His recognition as Employee of the Quarter is greatly deserved.”

Employee of the Quarter Ed Cooney (center) is congratulated by (from the left) Board of Directors Chair Ron Dailey and CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham.

“When I found out, I thought to myself, ‘Is there another Ed Cooney who works here?’ he recounts. “I think because I grew up in an environment where we didn’t get praise or appreciation, so when you do, it makes you feel a little awkward at first. But I appreciate Diane Caldera for nominating me and individually recognizing every dispatcher’s work. The morale has really been raised since she’s taken over.”

Travel and family time also are huge parts of Ed’s life. He recently visited Hawaii, and often flies to Brazil, which is where his wife hails from. He is a proud father to his two daughters, graduates of University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I don’t have an R.V. because of tuition bills,” he jokes. “But I was so happy to win this award after 25 years of working here. I knew my loyalty to Omnitrans, which could be best described as canine in nature, would someday lead to this recognition!”

Employee of the Quarter John Steffon

What do you do when your department is without a Dispatch Supervisor, Assistant Transportation Manager (ATM), and West Valley Transportation Manager? Well, if you’re John Steffon, you buckle up, postpone your retirement plans, and rise to the occasion. Earlier this month, John, East Valley Transportation Manager, was declared Employee of the Quarter for his contributions to the Operations department while taking on three other positions’ responsibilities.

“Time management was tough,” admits John. “Some of your own work has to take a backseat to what really needs to be done then and there. This was the biggest challenge – trying to keep everything up to date from attendance, to handling all ATM duties, making sure all dispatch supervisor duties were being handled, and covering at West Valley if we needed to handle any disciplinary issues.”

While juggling multiple jobs during this time in addition to his own, John had to work with his team and the agency to increase our part-time driver roster. This was critical in addressing a challenge faced by Omnitrans at the time – drivers having to work overtime on their days off to deliver service to our customers. Their efforts paid off.

“We’ve recently graduated a class of eight new coach operators, and today we have six people testing, with another class joining us in December,” reveals John. “The onboarding of new drivers is really helping to keep service on the road without forcing overtime on our existing coach operators. We are focused on building up our part-time drivers so that overtime goes down and as people retire or leave, we have people ready to fill their positions. It’s been tough, but we need to get service on the road because our passengers are the ultimate customers and they are depending on us.”

Employee of the Quarter John Steffon (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 Ron Dailey.

This year, John celebrates his 23rd year at Omnitrans. He has nearly 50 years of transportation experience, having spent almost 25 years at Greyhound in Los Angeles prior to Omnitrans. “Before that, I spent years in the army on boats, planes – all different modes of transportation! I served in 1967 and 1968 after being drafted upon graduating college,” says John, a Vietnam War veteran.

John began his career with Omnitrans as a field supervisor in West Valley. Sunday bus service had just started in 1994, and the agency hired two additional field supervisors, one of which was John. A year later the Transportation Manager position opened, and he was promoted in 1995.

“The most satisfying part of this job is coming to work with a positive attitude and seeing that we’re getting service on the road and helping people. The community needs us, and we need them. Being in the service industry, it’s our duty to provide that service, especially for those who really depend on us to get to work, meetings, doctor’s appointments, or other errands,” says John.

“You learn something new every day. You think you’ve seen all the situations that you possibly can; it’s mind-boggling. What I’m learning is how to keep up with all this new technology in the transit industry and, not to be too funny, but, also learning how to deal with millennials and speaking a little bit of their language,” he laughs.

Outside of work, John likes to dedicate his time to reading, golfing, and going outside on walks. He is also a major football enthusiast, and he is ecstatic that his team, the Rams, is back in Southern California. He proudly shows off his 2016 Omnitrans Fantasy Football League trophy. “The reason I need to walk is because I’m a couch potato when it comes to watching football!” he jokes.

Although John looks forward to retirement early next year, he remains fully committed to our mission of connecting our community. “It’s coming to an end and it’ll be time to move on in a few months. Omnitrans has been very good to me, and I come here every day with a smile on my face.”

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.

Employee of the Quarter, October-December 2016

Director of Operations Diane Caldera, Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Christina Diaz, Omnitrans CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham, and Board of Directors Chair Sam Spagnolo.

When asked to attend the Omnitrans Board of Directors meeting in February to be officially recognized as the Employee of the Quarter, Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Christina Diaz was appreciative and humbled, but a little apprehensive.

“I don’t like all the attention,” a modest Christina reveals. “I just want to come to work and do the best job that I can. That’s how I like to prove myself.”

Christina’s passion for the work that she does led her to this achievement. She does not seek pomp and circumstance, or praise. She would rather let her strong work ethic speak for itself – and it has.

When she’s not leading a new class of coach operators through their five-week training period, Christina is working on tasks to improve our fleet safety. She currently also sits on the Accident Tracking and Prevention Committee and is an alternate representative on the Accident Incident Review Committee.

Over the last quarter, Christina has: become the first in the Training department to complete the Leadership Action Plan program, the University of the Pacific Transit Management certification, and developed an employee proficiency form that has improved the Operations department’s CHP and DMV audits of over 400 coach operators. She has also volunteered to attend the DMV Employee Testing Program (ETP) examiner course in Sacramento later this year. Gaining this certification saves the agency money and resources by having an ETP examiner on-site to administer the tests for coach operator commercial driver licenses.  

As involved as she is within her department, Christina’s enjoyment comes from interacting with new coach operator students in the training room.

“I get to be a mentor as well as a coach,” Christina smiles. “This is what I tell students when they come through the door: ‘I don’t teach you how to drive, you already know how to drive. I am just going to add to what you already know.”

Christina’s approach to training is not to simply teach from a manual, but to pass on knowledge that she has gained through experience, and share it with future drivers to enrich their own job performance. This is what makes her look forward to another day at the office.

“I enjoy interacting with our trainees and being exposed to different types of personalities. It helps me learn to work with different individuals. The agency relies on me to execute what needs to be done, and if I can contribute to that greater goal of the agency by instructing new drivers, then I am happy,” she tells us.

Fleet Safety and Training team at the 2016 Omnitrans Bus Roadeo: (left to right) Charles Molloy, Christina Diaz, Norma Zamora, Don Frazier, Kim Perkins, and Steve Sisneros.

Before joining Omnitrans in 2013, Christina had been a driver at other transit agencies. When the time came for a change, she found an opportunity in Training that was suitable to her skills and experience. She describes this as the agency “taking a chance” on her without knowing her, for which she is grateful.

In her three and a half years with the agency, her proudest moment is having been an integral part of the sbX launch in 2014. “I was here since its inception,” Christina says proudly. “Even though I was new here, I got to be involved in the process from the beginning, learning how to drive the 60-foot articulated buses, and passing that on to operators who had not driven them before,” Christina shares. “That was a milestone – to launch the region’s first bus rapid transit line – and I got to be a part of it. I made history with the agency!”

Christina’s mindset is that fostering mutually beneficial relationships with coach operators is crucial. “Someone once told me that if you have a know-it-all attitude, and you believe there is nothing else that anybody can teach you, you’re in trouble. There is a lot to learn, always.”

She continues, “I am always asking a lot of questions! We are all part of one agency, and the more that you’re aware and knowledgeable of other departments and facets of the agency, the better that you can do your job. Knowing more allows you to understand the broader picture of what we do for our public.”

Christina’s pride and dedication are not lost on anybody, especially her supervisor, Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Don Frazier. “Christina has been a true leader in the Training department. She has volunteered for tasks continuously and has worked many days off to make sure that tasks are covered,” says Don. “Christina has definitely proven to be not only an excellent instructor, but an overall great employee to the agency.”

Moving forward, Christina wants to continue to exceed expectations. “My goal is to continue to fulfill the needs of the agency and to meet the demands to the best of my ability. I also want to continue to grow and learn as much as I can.”

“I take such pride in this job, which is something that I haven’t always done before. I didn’t always care about my uniforms looking neat and pressed,” she laughs. “But now at Omnitrans, I go as far as taking them to the cleaners, because that’s how proud I am to be here.”

Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter Alex Chen

Omnitrans photo of Employee of the Quarter Alex Chen by photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter Alex Chen

Omnitrans Database Administrator Alex Chen is at his most comfortable behind a computer, writing code or troubleshooting databases.

“I’m a programmer,” he shrugs with a big smile. “I love my job. It’s just what I do best.”

Maybe that’s why he was so surprised to learn he had been selected as Employee of the Quarter.

There were a lot of reasons he was a good candidate.

Alex developed the Transit Screen system for the San Bernardino Transit Center, implementing Nextrip and E-sign for the project.

Employee of the Quarter Alex Chen

Omnitrans IT Director Jacob Harms, CEO P. Scott Graham, Employee of the Quarter Alex Chen & Board Chair Sam Spagnolo

He was also project lead for the massive update of the agency’s Procurement SAP system. His responsibilities included building the program, testing for quality assurance, and, finally, implementation.

“This was a huge project,” he explains. “And it affected purchases for every department. Because it involved such extensive upgrades, much of the work had to be done at night or on holidays when no one was on the network. I even spent Thanksgiving and Christmas here to make sure everything was functioning correctly. I don’t mind it. It comes with the job in IT, and I enjoy what I do.”

Luckily his wife understands the demands of his work.  The couple has two houses, one in San Gabriel and one in San Bernardino. During the week he stays here in the city to be close to the office, and on weekends he drives the 50 mile commute home.

“We Facetime a lot on our iPads,” he chuckles. “In some ways it’s great because we don’t argue or get on each other’s nerves. We get to do whatever we like during the week and enjoy our time together on the weekend. It works out well. I feel very free to do whatever I need to do for the job.”

20160203_EofQ_Alex_Chen-005

Alex’s knowledge and expertise has made him an invaluable resource, not only for IT, but for other departments as well.

“Alex is a wizard at taking our data requests from various internal data systems and combining them into usable reports so we can make business decisions,” says Service Planning Manager Jeremiah Bryant. “It’s been extremely helpful on a number of projects.”

Troubleshooting the NexTrip bus arrival system information has been the toughest problem Alex has had to face over the past quarter.

“Our complex IT system incorporates multiple outside programs, as well as those we custom develop in-house,” says Omnitrans IT Director Jacob Harms. “This means that we’re pulling data from multiple sources for NexTrip, which can cause glitches. If TransitMaster were as reliable as Alex’s interface programs, we wouldn’t have issues with missing or incorrect NexTrip predictions.

“The real value that Alex brings to Omnitrans is his ability to quickly take a customer (Omnitrans or public) need and utilize existing resources to develop his own custom solution.  A great example of this was the sbX pulse system.

20160203_EofQ_Alex_Chen-001

“When the sbX route was first implemented, Omnitrans wanted to use a free running system with set intervals for scheduling rather than a set schedule.

“Although this was requested months prior to the new services launch, our vendor was unable to provide a solution in time.  In just a matter of weeks, Alex was able to create his own custom solution, involving an in-house built program pulling location data from our TransitMaster databases and relaying that to a network of cell phones that we installed on the buses.  Now the solution itself was rather simple. But without Alex and his ability to quickly create and implement custom programs, this would not have been possible.”

Alex’s dependability, innovative problem-solving, ability to successfully create highly customized solutions, and willingness to go above and beyond to assist others make him an invaluable part of the Omnitrans team. We are proud to honor him as our Employee of the Quarter.

Frank Flores does whatever it takes for customers

dumpsterdiving

Warranty Coordinator and Employee of the Quarter Frank Flores “dumpster dives” in a scrap metal bin while Materials Supervisor Rick Barone looks on.

Omnitrans Warranty Coordinator Frank Flores loves a challenge. From dumpster diving in scrap metal bins to researching manufacturer warranties, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to turn old metal parts into dollar signs. Thanks to his diligence and dedication, Omnitrans has recovered more than $307,000 in warranty claims in the last fiscal year!

When Frank was promoted from Parts Clerk to Warranty Coordinator three years ago, he was up against some heavy competition for the position. His strong analytic skills and systematic approach to claims and recovery made him stand out as a contender.

“Frank is a problem-solver,” explains Materials Manager Rick Barone. “He’s very proactive in finding new and better ways of doing things that benefits everyone. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty. I’ve even caught him dumpster diving for parts in the scrap metal bins.”

Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter Frank Flores

From left to right: Omnitrans Board Chair Sam Spagnolo, Frank Flores, Procurement Director Jennifer Sims, CEO & GM P. Scott Graham

“Thanks,” Frank laughs and adds “I only dumpster dive at work. It’s actually not a hobby. I basically search through the bins to see if I can find anything that might still be covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. The mechanics know when the warranty on a vehicle has expired, but they may not know that a specific component is still warrantied by the manufacturer.”

“He also incredibly organized and keeps impeccable records,” Rick points out. “A lot of guys in his position have extensive knowledge in their heads, but they’re not great at documenting information and communicating it to others. Frank does it all.”

Procurement Director Jennifer Sims agrees. “Frank has brought a level of analytics to the process that Omnitrans has never had before. He provides a very different systematic approach to how we handle claims and recovery.

forklift group

“For example, Frank developed a special tagging system. Now instead of parts just being tossed into a warranty bin, each item is tagged by the mechanic with as much information as they know. This makes it much easier to research where we ordered it from, how long we’ve had it, and if there is any warranty left. Frank’s been very instrumental not only in improving communication between the mechanics and the procurement team, but also in developing tools within SAP that allow us to track that warranty information. This helps automate the process and makes it easier for the mechanics.”

Frank credits his coworkers for making the process work. “It really is a team effort, and I appreciate everything they do. And the mechanics—they’re a great bunch of guys. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without them. They’ll even double-check a part for me to see if it’s still viable and something we can clean up and reuse.”

“When you look at the volume of claims that Frank is recovering,” Sims points out. “It’s more than double what we were able to do in the past. When budgets are tight, he’s actually saving job positions by maximizing our resources.”

frank and rick

“It feels good to know that what you do has that kind of impact,” says Frank. “It makes you want to do all you can. That’s why I don’t have a problem reaching into a dumpster.”

An eight-year veteran with Omnitrans, he tells us he plans to stay with the agency until he retires.

“Prior to working here, I was a manager at Auto Zone. I love helping people, and they appreciate it. You can see it in people’s faces. But I didn’t feel I could run a business the way I wanted to. Here I feel I have more ownership in it.  I am so thankful that I came to Omnitrans. I enjoy what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I work with great departments and a great staff down here. I never dread coming to work.

“I like the consistency,” he explains. “I’d like to think that if someone came in and worked along beside me that the process would be very clear. For example, one of the things I’ve always said is that if your boss wants something turned in by Tuesday, you turn it in on Monday.  If they want to know what has the highest rate of recovery, I can be that quick in turning in numbers.

Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter Frank Flores

Employee of the Quarter Frank Flores and his proud family

“I also like the fact that I’m often working with the manufacturers now instead of just going through the vendor. By going direct, I’m able to skip the middle-man and build up direct relationships with the manufacturers. Not only does it help our recovery process, it’s been beneficial to them as well. If a part is consistently having problems, we’re able to demonstrate that to them. That helps them identify the issue and make improvements.”

But what means the most to Frank is the impact his work has on Omnitrans riders.

“I recognize most of the coach numbers when I see them on the street,” he says. “And it feels good to realize that that I have played a part in keeping that vehicle on the road. All of us are working together as a team to make sure those passengers aren’t stranded. That’s the most important thing. That’s why we do what we do.”

 – Juno Kughler Carlson
  juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

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Employee of the Quarter Mae Sung

Mae Sung  head shot

When Accounting Manager Mae Sung heard that she was being honored as Employee of the Quarter for her exceptional work , she reacted with astonishment.

“It was very surprising to me because I just felt I was doing my job,” she confessed. “And I was amazed at how my team all came to support me. I definitely can be hard on them sometimes because I hold them to such high standards.  But I also hold myself to those same standards and never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”

Mae’s management style is to lead by example. She never balks at taking on any job, large or small, because she views it as an opportunity to learn. Her energy, positive attitude and willingness to chip in wherever needed inspire her team to do the same. Everyone is encouraged to cross-train to gain a better understanding of each other’s jobs.

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From left to right: Omnitrans CEO and GM P. Scott Graham, Employee of the Quarter Mae Sung, Board Chair Allan Wapner and Finance Director Donald Walker

“We are more than a good working team,” she points out. ”We are like family. We work well together and all of us genuinely care about each other. Every single one of us has a specific skill that contributes to the whole. If any part is missing we cannot complete our work. We understand this and respect each person for their contribution.”

Mae believes that open communication is the key to the department’s success.

“Wednesday mornings we have our staff meeting, and free speech is always encouraged. We talk about business and sometimes we’re all in agreement and sometimes we disagree. But we discuss what’s going on and let them know what is expected by the company, by each department, our boss, a board member, whatever the case may be. In the end, we all have a clear understanding of our goals and how we will attain them.”

Mae and team

Mae proudly poses with members of the finance team

Often the biggest challenge Mae faces has to do with gathering the information she needs from the various departments.

“Not everyone understands finance and accounting, so sometimes I have to nudge other departments into cooperating with us. We are held to tight deadlines that they don’t have. For example we have a deadline for payroll. We want to be sure everyone is paid accurately and in a timely manner. We have deadlines to pay vendors and have to collect invoices from each department in order to make payment. I don’t want to receive a phone call about a past due invoice. Sometimes I have to personally walk down to the departments to prompt them, but I think they understand that’s my job.”

Mae desk

In her private time, Mae enjoys music and travel. She has been to Japan, Taiwan, China and is looking forward to touring Europe. Most recently she had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Italy.

“I was looking forward to listening to some of the famous operas in Italy, but I was disappointed. It was too crowded and I didn’t have the time. But I did get to enjoy some of the live bands—such beautiful music and talented artists.”

Music has always been an important part of Mae’s life. Growing up she was trained in classical music and played piano.

”I don’t have time for it now, but I dream that later after my retirement I can do that again. There’s a deep joy that comes from playing the piano. That type of music is so soothing and brings you a quiet peace. I live in Corona and always set my radio to 91.5 FM the classical music station during the commute. I love it.”

Finance Director Donald Walker with Employee of the Year Mae Sung

Finance Director Donald Walker with Employee of the Year Mae Sung

Still, Mae can’t bring herself to don earphones in the office to listen to music. “I can’t do it,” she laughs. “It makes me feel cut off. I have to hear everything that’s going on outside the door. They might need me for something.”

Although Mae has worked at Omnitrans for more than 9 years, she is still passionate about what she does and it shows.

“I love my work because I like to give people a better understanding of their financial situation,” she explains. “Companywide, people spend but they don’t have the big picture. Our goal is to collect information from each department, analyze it, readjust it, classify it, and illustrate it with diagrams and beautiful pictures and compile it into a report. This way everyone is aware of how much we earn, how much we spend, and what’s in our future.”

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Don and Mae share a laugh together. “She is such a pleasure to work with and is truly deserving of this award,” Don tells us.

In fact, since 2006 when Mae and her boss, Director of Finance Donald Walker, first joined Omnitrans, every annual comprehensive financial report they have put together has earned the agency top awards.

“Don and I work very well together. I feel so lucky to have such a nice boss. From the beginning, he has always given me room to grow. He’s not controlling like many other bosses but is very understanding. He gives me the space to go ahead and do whatever I think I should do and encourages me to expand this position into something more.”

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The team teases Mae: “We celebrated your award at lunch without you. But the waitress sent her best wishes.”

Laughter and conversation erupt in the outer office as team members gather together to have a group photo made with Mae. She smiles.

“Omnitrans is a very nice company to work for,” she says. “There is room for people to grow and move up, and people are allowed to be themselves. I’m happy here, and I think all of our finance team is happy too.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Diane Bojorquez: Employee of the Quarter

Diane Bojorquez is honored as Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter, photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

Omnitrans CEO P. Scott Graham, Marketing Director Wendy Williams, Employee of the Quarter Diane Bojorquez and Board Chair Alan Wapner

What do you do when your department undergoes a restructure that doubles your workload? If you’re Diane Bojorquez, you roll up your sleeves and rise to the challenge. On November 5th, she was honored as Employee of the Quarter creating and implementing a hugely successful fare change communication plan.

“It’s been an interesting few months,” admits Diane. “With the reorganization, we eliminated a staff position, which then added pass sales distribution responsibilities to my list of duties. At the same time, we were preparing for our first fare increase in five years, so it was critical to streamline our process and come up with a good communication plan.”

Diane Bojorquez,  photographer Juno Kughler CarlsonDiane’s first priority was to personally visit each of our more than 80 pass vendors to let them know she would be servicing their accounts directly, which would cut down on the turnaround time for order fulfillment. It also gave her the opportunity to talk with them about the upcoming fare change well in advance and to answer any questions they might have.

“I knew that spending time with each of these businesses and re-establishing relationships with them was going to be the single most important thing I could do,” explains Diane. “It’s all about building a community where our partners feel supported. I wanted to be face-to face with them so they could associate Omnitrans with a real person who wanted to take the time to get to know them and understand their needs.”

Her efforts paid off.  Vendor feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Orders are now streamlined and processed within hours rather than days, and pass outlet sales have grown 13% year to date.

Diane then turned her attention to the online store. In order to change over product prices, she knew the store would need to be temporarily closed for business for 2 days prior to the fare change. With the help of her team, she sent letters to mail order customers notifying them of the online store closure and enclosing a chart that compared current and upcoming fare prices.

Diane Bojorquez celebrates with family and friends,  photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

Employee of the Quarter revelry with Jonathan Bojorquez, Diane Bojorquez, Tembi Tovar, Melissa Castillo, Diana Duran and Lilliann Duran

By anticipating customer needs before they arose and delivering outstanding personal customer service, Diane ensured our 2014 fare change went smoothly, and that there were no complaints related to outlet or online store fare media. Online store revenues were up 35% in September versus last year.

“None of it could have happened without the support of my team,” Diane points out. “Tembi Tovar, our administrative secretary, made the rounds with me to the outlets and helped process orders. Our receptionists Susie Perez, Lucy Gonzales-Brown and Liz Calderon made sure our walk-in customers had the fare change information in their hands, processed exchanges and helped answer questions. It was definitely a group effort, and I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.”

Diane celebrates her 10 year anniversary with Marketing Director Wendy Williams (left) and Customer Service Manager Melissa Castillo (right)

This year Diane celebrated her 10th  anniversary with Omnitrans. She has over 37 years in the transit industry, including 27 years with LA Metro, where she began as a 19-year-old information clerk.

“Transit has been a great career for me,” says Diane. “And I like the fact it’s allowed me to change and grow along with it. Technology has changed a lot since 1975, but I was fortunate enough to receive on-the-job training that gave me the skills I needed to adapt. Omnitrans is very good about encouraging employees to develop leadership skills and come up with new ideas that can help the agency.”

Two years ago, Diane participated in a Leadership Achievement Program at Omnitrans, where she developed an audio advertising project.  The project would enable short, GPS triggered audio advertisements or public service messages on buses at carefully spaced intervals. This month, her project was approved for implementation.

Diane and family, photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

Diane Bojorquez and her children Diana and Jonathan

“I’m really excited about it,” she laughs. “It’s been such a long process, that I can hardly believe it’s finally happening! It will bring in additional revenue at absolutely no cost to the agency. It also provides a location-based service to our customers.  For example, they might learn that a nearby drugstore is offering low cost flu shots or that a restaurant is offering 2-for-1 specials for riders who show them a bus pass. It’s a simple way we can add value for our passengers.”

In her private life Diane is all about family. Her daughter Diana, son Jonathan, and granddaughter Lilliann were all on hand to cheer her on during her award presentation.  Diane proudly shows off a photo of an intensely focused Lilliann striking a catching stance in her softball uniform. “She’s the only girl on the team,” she grins. “I love that she’s so independent. She knows what she wants and goes for it! Kind of like her Grammy.”

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter Diane Bjorquez and grandaughter Lilliann,  photographer Juno Kughler Carlson

Strong independent women run in the family: Diane Bojorquez and granddaughter Lilliann