Tag Archives: omnitrans employees

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 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.

Coach Operators recognized for safe driving record

The Omnitrans Million Mile Club has welcomed new drivers to its ranks! Fourteen coach operators are recognized this year for their achievement in safely driving 25,000 hours without a preventable accident, a feat that is accomplished over the course of 12 years. One driver has completed 50,000 driving hours over 25 years without a preventable accident, making them a 2 million mile club member.

From left to right: Salvador Soto Luna, Antoinette Meza, Jerry Milton (2 Million Mile), Michael Morrow, Dagoberto Perez, Elizabeth Samaro, Clarissa VanDyke.

“To put into perspective what each new member of the elite Million Mile Drivers Club has accomplished, consider the miles driven,” says Assistant Transportation Manager Mike DiFonzo. “The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles. Each driver drove an equivalent of 40 trips around the earth without a chargeable accident or safety violation. What an amazing accomplishment!”

From left to right, are: Manuel Acosta, Kathleen Havey, David Castillo, and sbX driver Juan Miranda.

Each driver was presented with a special plaque, jacket, hat, belt buckle, certificate of recognition, a silver name plate, a day off with pay, and $500. Our 2 Million Mile driver also received a bonus five-day cruise to Mexico including paid time off!

Our congratulations go to these drivers for setting the standard of excellence. We are grateful for their commitment to safety as they connect our community.

1 Million Mile Coach Operators

  • Manuel Acosta
  • David Castillo
  • Kathleen Havey
  • Antoinette Meza
  • Juan Miranda
  • Michael Morrow
  • Dagoberto Perez
  • Earl Roberts
  • Elizabeth Samaro
  • Salvador Soto Luna
  • Dennail Sweatt
  • Jackie Sweatt
  • Wendell Taylor
  • Clarissa Van Dyke

2 Million Mile Coach Operators

  • Jerry Milton

To view more photos of our 2017 Million Mile Club inductees, click here.

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.”

Special Transportation Services Department Aims to Improve Quality of Life

Earlier this year, Omnitrans welcomed the Special Transportation Services (STS) department, formerly known as Valley Transportation Services. STS provides a number of services for senior citizens and people with disabilities, including one-on-one travel training on Omnitrans’ fixed route system. The department also oversees the Transportation Reimbursement Escort Program (TREP) (also known as Volunteer Driver Program), another initiative that makes it easy for eligible individuals to be transported by a friend or relative, who is then reimbursed for trip mileage. Finally, the department’s RIDE program partners Omnitrans with taxi and Lyft services, providing fares at a discounted rate for those who are unable to ride our existing bus service.

The team is lead by Director Nathan Churan, whose vision for the department is to provide innovative transportation options for seniors and individuals with disabilities in the communities which we serve.

The Special Transportation Services department.

Nathan explains that one of the agency’s biggest issues is “first-mile/last-mile,” a common issue in transit regarding the efficiency of getting customers from a transit center or centralized location to their final destination, particularly in less urban areas. For senior citizens and those living with a disability, it can be particularly challenging. “This is a problem that our RIDE partnership with Lyft and taxis, which we’re going to develop and build, can alleviate,” says Nathan.

While the RIDE partnership is a convenience, it presents another complication for those who may not have a smart phone. Nathan has a solution. “There is an app called GoGoGrandparent, where a senior can pick up the phone and request a ride, and the message is sent out to Uber and Lyft,” explains Nathan.

GoGoGrandparent connects the rider to a Lyft or taxi pickup. Because the drivers are aware that the request comes from a GoGoGrandparent user, they are able to provide a higher level of customer service for customers. “The best part is, the senior never even needs to use a smart phone, so this will allow us to really reach that demographic,” explains Nathan.

Elias Camara and Esteban Villegas, Paratransit Eligibility Technicians. They conduct the in-person assessments of applicants who are inquiring about Access, a service for people unable to independently use our fixed route bus service. The technicians determine whether the clients can get to and from a bus stop, if not, one of our special transportation services intervenes and assists anyone who requires being picked up at their home location and transported to their destination.

Future goals include creating partnerships with local senior centers in the county as part of the department’s senior mobility management pilot program. Nathan reveals that after the planning and outreach phase, the department hopes to award contracts to partner senior centers to begin offering some direct services. This will be of great benefit to our community of senior citizens, especially as it relates to their health care transportation needs.

Special Transportation Services’ focus is on improving quality of life for the senior citizen community and those living with disabilities through innovative transportation programs. To become more familiar with their work, and learn how to take advantage of these services, please visit their new webpage on Omnitrans.org.

It’s Not His First Roadeo

by Janice Kuhn, Marketing Specialist

This not his first Roadeo.  It’s only his second.  However, Coach Operator Benito Zavalza has proved he can handle the heat of the competition.

During the American Public Transportation Association’s International Bus Roadeo, an event which tests a bus operator’s driving skills, Zavalza placed a historic second at the event – Omnitrans’ highest ranking in the history of the competition, which typically pits an average of 40 drivers from transit agencies all over the United States and Canada. 

Benito at the International Roadeo

Zavalza’s path to international success started on home turf, so to speak, at the Omnitrans Bus Roadeo in October 2015.  To even qualify to participate, drivers must have a good attendance and safety record.  Drivers are given 7 minutes to complete an obstacle course that puts them through the paces of completing right and left turns, backing up and cornering, all within the narrow lanes of strategically placed orange cones.   Judges are placed throughout the course to score each portion of the competition.  And if that’s not stressful enough, there are judges onboard each competitor’s bus, recording the driver’s actions.

A category for non-Class B driver’s license holders, and for Maintenance staff, is also held, and a friendly competition amongst office staff is an annual thing, with everyone coming out of it with a stronger appreciation for the skill that driving a bus demands.  However, the driver’s portion is the one to watch, since the winner proceeds on to the Regional competition.  Zavalza placed first in the agency competition, and went on to compete in the Regional competition in April, where he placed second.

 “Some people might say that the Regional doesn’t matter, since drivers are guaranteed a spot in the International if you win first place” said Zavalza, “I saw it as a chance to so see what I could do under more pressure.”

Although he was pleasantly surprised by his second place victory in the Regional, he vowed to do better.  He spent hours studying the results of the Regional competition, analyzing his score, cone by cone.  Traveling over 50 miles each way from his home in Yucaipa to the Montclair bus yard, Zavalza regularly put in 3-4 hour practice sessions, calling upon whomever was willing to help set up the course, and give advice.

Advice from experienced Operators, as well as new ones, was also something he vigorously sought. 

“I was very open to feedback, good and bad,” said Zavalza.  “Rick Alvarez (a former long-reigning agency Roadeo champ), and our training and safety staff really helped me to hone my skills.”

His mission to improve his skills oftentimes came at odds with his desire to spend time with his family, which Zavalza says is just something he has learned to juggle.

“My father had a saying, if you do something, do it right,” recalled Zavalza, with tears in his eyes.  He recalls that his late father often worked 2-3 minimum wage jobs at a time to help make ends meet for his family of nine.  “Now that I have my own family, I try to do the best I can in whatever I do for my family.”

Benito Zavalza and family

On the day of the final International competition in North Carolina, he learned that his daughter, who had stayed at home with family, had a fever.  He and his wife Heidy monitored the situation and determined it was not serious, but he admits his first reaction was to leave.

“I almost said, ‘I can’t do this, I need to go home,’” said Zavalza.  “But I remembered a driver who competed last year who had just lost his mother during the competition.  He kept going, and I admired his dedication.”

After his win, Zavalza could not wait to get back home to his family.  “I just wanted to get home and hug my babies,” said Zavalza.

Five days after his win in North Carolina, he was out on the road in San Bernardino, patiently instructing a group of coach operator students.

“I’m taking the things I have learned and paying it forward,” said Zavalza.  “I think you can learn from anyone.”

 

 

Omni Team Effort Reunites Missing Man with Family

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

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

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

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

                                               Derman Redman

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you lost?”

“No.” Very firm.

“Are you sure you’re not lost?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“When was the last time you went home?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sure you’re not lost?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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