Tag Archives: omnitrans employees

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.”

Sales Supervisor solves lost wallet mystery, returning $314 to Omni rider

Herman Reed and Diane Bojorquez

Herman Reed and Diane Bojorquez

We love a happy ending—especially when we have a hand in making it happen!

On September 4, 2015, Omnitrans Coach Operator Jesse Lakes found a man’s wallet at the Fontana Metrolink station with $314 in cash inside. Concerned for the owner, the conscientious driver tagged it and turned it into our Lost and Found department.

A card in the wallet identified the owner as Fontana resident Herman Reed. Sales Supervisor Diane Bojorquez made several attempts to reach Herman with no luck. His phone was disconnected, and a letter sent to his address was returned as undeliverable. She even approached me for help in tracking him down on social media. We managed to find his Facebook profile and messaged him, but still there was no response.

Normally Omnitrans only holds lost items for 10 days but, because of the amount of money involved, Diane decided to hang onto it. For five months, the wallet sat in the lost and found safe.

“I don’t know what it was about this wallet,” Diane said later. “I had to keep trying. It was a lot of money for anyone to lose, and I just wasn’t ready to give up.”

On Thursday, Diane was closing out old lost and found items, and once again came across the brown leather wallet.

“Remember this?” she asked me sadly. “It’s Herman Reed’s wallet with the $314. We never got a response back from him.”

Reed2

“Maybe there’s something we missed the first time?” I suggested.

Flipping through the wallet, I pulled out a health insurance card. “I wonder if we contacted his healthcare provider if they would be willing to pass a message on to him?”

She grinned, “Hey, it couldn’t hurt.”

After a quick conversation with a helpful health care representative, Diane received a call back from a very surprised Herman Reed, who immediately made arrangements to come by the office.

When we met in in the lobby later that morning, Herman couldn’t stop smiling. He ran over and gave Diane a huge hug thanking her over and over again for not giving up on him. The two laughed like old friends.

“We try to do everything we can to get lost items back to the owners,” she told him. “But this was a challenge.”

“I’d given up on ever getting it back,” he told her. “That was my rent money in the wallet. And here’s another strange thing. After I lost my wallet, I switched to a cheaper phone plan and had my old cell phone turned off.

“Just a few days ago, the phone suddenly came on again for some reason. I have no idea why. I wasn’t paying for it.”

“That was the number they called you on?” asked Diane.

“Yes!” Herman said. “I couldn’t believe it! It was such a blessing. In fact, I had been going to take it in to the store earlier this week to make sure they deactivated again, but something made me decide to wait until the weekend. Somebody must have been watching over me.”

He laughed and gave us both another hug. “You two are my favorites! I love Omnitrans! You don’t know what this means to me.”

Watching Herman walk out the door with a big smile on his face made our day.

– Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org

Employee of the Year Mae Sung

Mae head shotIt’s unusual for an employee to be adept in each of the varied roles and processes in her department. That’s what makes Omnitrans Employee of the Year Mae Sung such an asset to the agency.

As Accounting Manager, Mae Sung is responsible for the direct supervision of payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash receipts, and general accounting personnel.  This is no easy task, as it requires her to be highly knowledgeable in each area in order to resolve problems as they occur.

When scheduled and unscheduled absences arise, Mae is able to seamlessly step in to cover that position as well as perform her own duties. She is a friend and mentor to members of her team, always making herself available to assist them as needed. She believes that every task, no matter how small, is important in ensuring the success of her department, and she honors each person as an indispensable part of that process. Thanks to the diligence of the finance team, Omnitrans passed its 2015 financial audit entirely without error!

Mae desk

However, the area of responsibility where Mae truly excels is cash management. Omnitrans collects revenues from numerous sources in cash, checks, and wire transfers on a daily basis.  Additionally there are weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly disbursements to employees and vendors by checks, direct deposits, and wire transfers.  Mae ensures the checking account balance is sufficient to cover all of the agency’s obligations when they are due.

Finally, Mae has been key in the compilation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which has earned the agency  awards for excellence in financial reporting seven years in a row.

Omnitrans is proud to commend Mae as Employee of the Year. We thank her for her extraordinary commitment to the advancement of our agency.

Mae Sung Proof II - 2.1.2016

 

 

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

Bus-Master-white-background

Million Mile Coach Operators Honored

Omnitrans Million Mile Drivers

Left to right:Million Mile Club Honorees Kenneth Brantley, Larry Pollard, Enedina Casillas, Joe Armenta, Marco Pacheco, Larry Day, John Barnett

This month, the Omnitrans Million Mile Club welcomed nine new 1 Million Mile drivers and three 2 Million Mile drivers into its ranks. These dedicated coach operators have achieved the prestigious 1 million mile mark by logging 25,000 driving hours without a preventable accident. It’s the equivalent of driving to the moon and back–twice!

The coach operators were honored in a special awards ceremony at the Omnitrans Board of Directors meeting on March 5th. Each received a presentation certificate and a check for $500.

Omnitrans Million Mile Safe Driving Award

Omnitrans CEO P. Scott Graham, Board Chair Allan Wapner and Operations Director Diane Caldera present Million Mile Club honorees with certificates of achievement.

“This particular group not only has an exemplary safety record, they are also very customer service oriented,” says Transportation Manager John Steffon. “Their kindness, professionalism, courteousness and concern for others have earned them numerous commendations from our passengers.”

Our gratitude and congratulations go out to each of these exceptional coach operators who set the Omnitrans standard for safety and excellence:

Two Million Mile Drivers

  • John Barnett
  • LaMorris Hall
  • Marco Pacheco

One Million Mile Drivers

  • Joe Armenta
  • Kenneth Brantley
  • Enedina Casillas
  • William Collins
  • Larry Day
  • Ronda Downton
  • Glenn Licher
  • Michael Mayo
  • Larry Pollard

For more photos of our Million Mile honorees, visit us on Flickr.

DSC_0376

 

 

Coach operator grads hit the road

Back row left to right: Cassandra Henderson, John Parham, Dennis Elton, Mark Newton. Front row left to right: Julie Diaz, Regina Tootle and Kenya Finnell.

Omnitrans newest student coach operators were all smiles as they celebrated their graduation today.

Three of the graduates have a transit background and came to Omnitrans from other transit agencies. Kenya Finnell formerly drove both buses and trains for LA Metro. Mark Newton was previously a coach operator for Orange County Transportation Authority, and Regina Tootle had been a coach operator for Foothill Transit.

The other four graduates were newbies to the transit industry. Dennis Elton worked in jumper rentals. Julie Diaz has worked numerous customer service positions for a variety of companies including Wells Fargo. Cassandra Henderson is a mom of two who considers this her first real job. John Parham worked for 30 years as a postal worker.

Fleet Safety & Training Instructor Charles Molloy checks in with dispatch for driving assignments for our new coach operators.

“This was a really energetic class and all of them were a pleasure to have as students,” says Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Charles Molloy. “They worked well together, cared a lot about other and always had each other’s backs. They are a great addition to our fleet.”

Welcome aboard graduates! We’re excited to have you here and wish you best of luck on your first routes.

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Kenya Finnell

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Julie Diaz

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Regina Tootle

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator John Parham

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Cassandra Henderson

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Mark Newton

Omnitrans Director of Operations Diane Caldera and Coach Operator Dennis Elton