Tag Archives: omnitrans employee of the year

Employee of the Quarter Nicole Ramos

In a career built on public service, Marketing Manager Nicole Ramos understands and prioritizes our community’s needs, which is why the Board of Directors has recognized her as Omnitrans Employee of the Quarter.

Throughout Nicole’s 18-year career with Omnitrans, our rider’s needs for information and the way that it is delivered and consumed has evolved tremendously, most recently with the advent of social media and smartphones.

Last quarter, Nicole spearheaded a project that closed a gap in our customer communications: the lack of timely rider alert notifications in case of irregular bus detouring while in service. Working with her team and inter-departmentally with Planning, I.T., and Operations, a solution to the age-old problem was reached, at last.

“The rider alerts project had been in the works in some capacity for about three years,” recalls Nicole. “There were a few things we tried, however, there was no effective flow of information that stuck. We had many meetings with Operations and I.T. but could never come up with something that was realistic for everybody that didn’t require a lot more work.”

Determined not to let this task fall by the wayside, Nicole reached out to her network of transit agencies for potential solutions. While at a roundtable discussion with other mid-sized agencies the 2018 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Marketing & Communications Workshop, Nicole posed the question and peer agencies shared success stories of similar rider alert notification systems.

Nicole then determined that publishing alerts to a Twitter account using pre-made alert templates would be the most viable solution for all involved and absolve the agency of additional costs. During this time, the transit operations software used by our Dispatch team in Operations was updated to a new version that allowed detours logged internally to be published to a public-facing Twitter feed. The timing could not have been more perfect to explore this idea.

“The impending software update would allow dispatchers to create notifications almost automatically using the data entered to populate a template published on Twitter. All they had to do was hit a couple of extra buttons in their process. Because of its ease, we got the buy in from dispatch, which was key,” says Nicole.

“Marketing Specialist Jose Hernandez played an integral role in this project. After waiting on necessary system upgrades and fine tuning our alert templates with help from the Planning team to make this as seamless as possible, we were able to begin testing before going live. We certainly appreciate Operations department leadership and Dispatch Supervisor Christina Gaeta for adopting this and pushing the implementation forward.”

It took many months of problem-solving and work behind the scenes, but the rider alerts notification system is now up and running with a Twitter feed that lives embedded on our Alerts webpage. “Although small, this is an important step that brings us back to what we are supposed to be doing as an agency, which is better serving the customer,” says Nicole.

Nicole was one of several women working at Omnitrans to participate in this year’s Classroom to Career Day. During the first portion of the event, local middle school students learned about the transit industry and potential career paths as they toured the San Bernardino Transit Center facility.

Additionally, Nicole played a major role in last fall’s American Bus Benchmarking Group (ABBG) Annual Meeting, during which Omnitrans hosted over 60 peers from the transit industry. Aside from overseeing hotel venue logistics, event photography, and attendee communications, Nicole also leveraged her existing community partnership with the Auto Club Speedway to lower costs associated with hosting an evening social networking mixer for attendees.

“Nicole contributed in many ways to ensure a successful meeting that projected a positive image of Omnitrans to peer agencies,” says Director of Marketing Wendy Williams. “The work Nicole put in exceeded her core responsibilities and required many extra hours outside of her regular schedule.”

As a recent graduate of the Leadership Development Academy, Nicole looks forward to the future, but reflects fondly on her years at Omnitrans.

“It’s been a great experience,” she says. “I get to do what I enjoy doing, but in a way that benefits the community at large. There’s stability and flexibility. Although sometimes you put in many extra hours, you are also encouraged and allowed time to have work-life balance. A lot of people who work here have done so for a long time, and that says something about the agency.”

“I appreciate working with and being able to lead a hard-working and creative team, and hopefully positively impact them as they move through their own careers.”

Employee of the Year Omar Bryant

Effective team leaders go beneath the surface of extensive job knowledge or industry expertise and tap into their innate ability to inspire and motivate, even under unexpected circumstances. This is a special quality that Maintenance Manager Omar Bryant has, helping him earn the title of Omnitrans Employee of the Year for 2018.

“I feel humbled and honored to receive this award,” says Omar. “I just do my best to support my boss and my staff, so the recognition was a bit of a surprise. For those of us in maintenance, the goal is to make pull-out of buses to meet the community’s transit needs every day. There are people out there who rely on us, so that’s what our focus is all about. Some days it’s not so easy, but we all work together as a team to achieve that.”

As the manager overseeing our East Valley maintenance shop of six supervisors and 50 employees, including mechanics and utility service workers, Omar is directly responsible for the reliability and cleanliness of our bus fleet of over 200 buses. It is a large task that requires him to not simply be knowledgeable about every moving part of a 40-foot bus, but also to effectively lead people in a department that works around the clock.

From left to right: Deputy General Manager Erin Rogers, Board of Directors Vice Chair David Avila, Maintenance Manager Omar Bryant, CEO/General Manager Scott Graham, and Director of Maintenance Connie Raya.

In October of 2017, after a sudden tragedy left the Maintenance department without a director, Omar was asked to step in and take over in the interim. He seamlessly assisted the General Manager and Deputy General Manager to keep the department operating smoothly and working toward agency goals and objectives.

“It was a challenging time for Omar and the rest of the department. However, he showed tremendous leadership and was able to keep the team motivated,” says current Director of Maintenance Connie Raya. “He is a great natural leader with a can-do spirit, who stepped up and displayed his loyalty to his team and agency during a difficult time.”

Department operations had to carry on amid these circumstances. One of the agency’s 2018 strategic initiatives called for repower of 63 buses. By repowering our existing compressed natural gas (CNG) buses with near-zero emission engines, Omnitrans has the ability to delay the mandated purchase of electric buses to further strategize purchasing and infrastructure needs before beginning to electrify our fleet.

Omar was responsible for overseeing the repower project – from writing purchasing scopes to order the engines, swapping out transmissions, and finally, installing the new near-zero engines on buses. The transition from one fuel technology to another is not something new for Omar, who started his career with Omnitrans as a Utility Service Worker before promoting upward to his current position. Throughout the years, bus fuel has shifted from diesel, to CNG, bringing us to the present – the early stages of electric battery buses.

“Learning the new technologies has been a positive experience. Although transitioning from a new technology to another has its pains, it’s what we need to do. Our air quality is better than it used to be in the past, so despite the costs and the growing pains, it’s a good thing to do,” he says.

Omar is also one of few employees hand-chosen to participate in the inaugural Manager’s track of the Leadership Development Academy, which develops future leaders as part of Omnitrans’ succession planning efforts. Omar has spent the past year working with his peers and our leadership program consultants to sharpen his managerial skills and broaden his understanding of the organization, preparing him for future upward mobility.

This Employee of the Year recognition has been years in the making. When Omar began his career journey as a 20-year-old recently out of mechanic school, his ambitions lied in working with earth-moving equipment. Nearly 28 years later, he remains committed to Omnitrans and connecting our community.

“When I started, I thought I’d be a mechanic for the rest of my career. I never foresaw that I would be in a leadership position, but the opportunities came, and I went for them. That is what is so great about working at Omnitrans. If you are willing to put in the work, you are trained and supported to grow in your career.”

Omnitrans is proud to commend Omar on an exceptional job well done and earning the Employee of the Year award. We appreciate his extraordinary commitment to the agency and to ensuring that our community has clean, reliable, and safe transportation to connect them from point A to point B.

Omnitrans Employee of the Year 2017

Employee of the Quarter John Steffon (left) is presented with his award by CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham (right) and Board of Directors Chair Ron Dailey (center) at February’s board meeting.

As he prepares for retirement in just a few months, East Valley Transportation Manager John Steffon is definitely going out on a high note as Omnitrans recognizes him as the Employee of the Year for 2017!

Throughout the last year, John played a crucial role in keeping Omnitrans operations flowing smoothly during a time when numerous management positions were vacant in his department. John postponed his retirement as he took on duties of the West Valley Transportation Manager, East Valley Assistant Transportation Manager, and Dispatch Supervisor in addition to his own.

During this time, the operations department was able to increase our part-time driver roster to ensure that bus service needs were met for our community and to prevent our current coach operators from working overtime on their days off. John was instrumental to these efforts and the successful onboarding of new drivers as he managed many of the day-to-day functions of the department.

“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.”

Although John looks forward to retiring soon, he remains fully committed to our mission of connecting our community while he is still here. “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.”

Congratulations, John! Your dedication to your employees and to our passengers is valued and appreciated.

Employee of the Year 2016, Marcos Espinoza

Reliability, expertise, and a friendly demeanor are what make our 2016 Employee of the Year an invaluable asset to the Omnitrans team. Marcos Espinoza, network technician in our Information Technology department, has been a member of the Omnitrans family for less than two years, but has already significantly impacted the agency.

Last year, during a data transfer to a new server, the agency’s onboard bus video surveillance footage was deemed irretrievable due to faulty hardware. The footage is critical to ongoing investigations and claims pertaining to accidents, liability claims, law enforcement assistance, and more.

Marcos, who admits to enjoying “breaking down” electronics and putting them back together, rose to the task after failed attempts by outside vendors to retrieve this footage. He methodically tackled the issue and successfully gained access to the files, recovering all footage. Although this may have unfolded behind-the-scenes, his action saved the agency time, resources, and potential trouble.

Employee of the Year Marcos Espinoza (second from left) is congratulated by (from left) Director of Information Technology Jacob Harms, Board of Directors Chair Sam Spagnolo, and CEO/General Manager P. Scott Graham.

“Marcos has demonstrated that he can master nearly any task put in his way, and is self-directed in seeking out new projects to accomplish,” says Director of Information Technology Jacob Harms, lauding Marcos’s high work ethic and self-motivation. “The only challenge in having an employee like Marcos is keeping enough fresh challenges in front of him.”

In addition to resolving issues surrounding wireless problems in our video systems and Citrix network slowness, Marcos has earned a positive reputation among co-workers for his strong ability to resolve issues of any magnitude, treating each Help Desk request with such urgency and importance. We thank him for embodying the spirit of teamwork and his exemplary commitment to the advancement of Omnitrans.

Employee of the Year: Don Frazier

On February 4th, Fleet Safety and Training Supervisor Don Frazier was named Omnitrans Employee of the Year for his dedication and invaluable contributions to success of the agency.

Don was critical to the successful launch of our sbX rapid transit service. He personally developed an in-depth, hands-on training program for our sbX coach operators to ensure they had the skills necessary to safely and efficiently run the route. He also tested vehicle features and helped identify potential problems along the corridor. Thanks to his excellent program and the hard work of his training team, our coach operators were well prepared for the April launch.

The latest Omnitrans training tool: the virtual coach simulator

His commitment to innovation has led our training program to new heights, most recently with the introduction of a virtual coach simulator. It is used as a defensive driving tool to give coach operators the opportunity to face challenging crisis scenarios not easily duplicated in their actual road training. Don constantly looks for new tools and training programs that he can implement with little cost to the agency.

However, to see where Don truly shines, you simply need to talk to the members of his team who nominated him for the Employee of the Year Award.

Don Frazier with trainers Charles Molloy, Stephen McClure, and Christina Diaz

“He is very fair and he watches out for his crew,” says Instructor Charles Molloy frankly. “He takes care of us and wants the best of everything for us. As far as tools or training materials—anything we need—he goes to bat for us.  And it’s because he’s come up through the ranks and knows what we’re facing. I’ve been here going on 21 years and have seen a lot of people in that position, and he’s the best by far. He’s worked hard to bring in innovative training tools like the new coach simulator. Since he became supervisor, this department has risen to a whole new level.”

Don on a test drive in one of the sbX articulated buses

“In my opinion, Don is very deserving of this award,” adds Instructor Christina Diaz. “He is a cool, calm, collected, flexible supervisor. He always has an open door policy. He is always open to suggestions and ideas. For me personally, I feel fortunate and grateful to work for someone like him. He’s been a great mentor to me and has taken me pretty much under his wing.  Even though he’s a supervisor, he’s had no reservations about taking time out of his busy schedule to work with me and show me Omni way. And I’m very appreciative of that.”

Omnitrans trainer Kimberly Perkins

Omnitrans trainer Kimberly Perkins

“Wow. What can I say?” says Instuctor Kimberly Perkins. “I just feel he’s taken us to a whole new level with new equipment and programs we never had before. He’s very good about listening to our suggestions and going to bat for us. I feel like I can go to him for anything. You know how sometimes you can feel so stressed by your boss that you don’t even want to come to work? Don’s the opposite. He makes you want to be here. He supports you and encourages you to give it your best. He always fair and treats all of us the same.”

Stephen McClure agrees. “Don is fair and follows the rules. He’s extremely nice to work for. Whenever I’ve talked with my wife about some of the things he’s done, she says ‘Wow, you really have a good boss.’  And she’s right. I have worked in my lifetime for many people—including myself—and he’s the best.” He grins, “And when you get to be as old as I am, you’ve worked for a lot of people.”

Omnitrans CEO P. Scott Graham, Operations Director Diane Caldera, Employee of the Year Don Frazier, and Board Chair Alan Wapner

Don seems a little overwhelmed by their comments.

“That means a lot to me, and it really hits me emotionally,” he confesses. “Last year was so tough on all of us. We had several large coach operator student classes, a coach operator instructor recruitment class, several return to work and accident prevention workshops and new DMV certifications to meet. We also had to train ourselves on the new sbX articulated buses  and learn to operate the corridor so that we could in turn train the coach operators. “

Don shakes his head, thinking back. “We were literally going non-stop all the time, pulling long hours and making personal sacrifices in order to do what needed to be done. They are an awesome team, and I’m incredibly proud of everything we’ve accomplished together.”

Director of Operations, Diane Caldera is not surprised. “When you lead by example and really care about and support your staff the way Don does, they will move the earth for you. We have one of the finest training teams in the industry and there is no end to what they can achieve.”

 Juno Kughler Carlson
  Juno.Carlson@omnitrans.org 

Don’s daughter Sandi Coria, his wife Audrey and son-in-law Phil Coria attended the award presentation to show their support and celebrate his achievement

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
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org