Tag Archives: omnitrans field supervisor

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.”

Omnitrans Field Supervisor Roberta Robertson

Omnitrans Field Supervisor Roberta Robertson

What does it take to be a good Field Supervisor? “You have to be a people person,” says Roberta Robertson. “You need to be able to assert authority in creative ways in order to diffuse tense situations.  And it’s important to listen–even if someone is chomping you out. Each individual is unique, and you need to be flexible and adapt to different personalities. You have to be that chameleon.”

Last October, Roberta joined Omnitrans as a field supervisor. Previously she worked part time for the City of Redlands Police Department in their community service division. Her full time job was working with probationary kids in a youth facility where she was a safety and security supervisor. She also has 15 years’ experience as a coach operator and drove buses for OCTA for 12 years. Her strength, she says, is conflict resolution and diffusing situations.

“The most challenging part of the job was coming here as an outside hire and trying to build relationships with the coach operators. It took a little time for them to see that I know my job, that I have high integrity, and that I listen to them and treat them fairly.  One of my roles is to counsel, but I also have to report things that could be a problem or safety issue. We’re all here for a common goal, to provide the best service we can to our customers.”

Mentoring is something Roberta understands well. She’s devoted much of her life to counseling young adults and encouraging them to reach for their dreams. She’s a volunteer in the “Midnight Hoops” basketball program at the Redlands Community Center which provides a supervised, safe haven for youth. “I grew up in the inner city, where there was a lot of gang activity. We lived in a low income neighborhood where people didn’t have any goals and never knew anything other than the street they grew up in.  As a kid I knew early on I wanted something different. I started playing sports and discovered I had a gift for basketball, averaging 30 points a game. It became my ticket out, allowing me to go to college. That’s part of the reason I like talking to kids. I tell them if I can do it, you can do it. But you do have to grab the opportunity when it presents itself.  If you’re motivated, a hard worker and have a desire to get things done there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.”

Roberta’s work ethic, self-discipline, versatility and personal rapport provide a strong foundation for her role as a Field Supervisor. The job requires wearing many hats, and often supervisors won’t know from one day to the next what their schedules will entail. They might have to investigate a customer complaint or commendation, serve papers, do a write up, handle a special task they are assigned or even drive a bus if the agency is short-handed. Often they are responding to calls, fixing fare boxes, or addressing customer service issues. Sometimes they are needed to set up detours due to construction. Approximately 7 hours of time each day is spent in the field. The safe operation of buses for both passenger and drivers is always a priority, and the bus agency wants customers to be happy with their experience so they will ride again.

“I’m out of my van more than I am in which is a little different for this culture,” says Roberta. “I don’t take complaints on the street—I guide them to our 800 number for that. But I do walk downtown a lot and talk to people. It’s a good way to build rapport with and get information from the riders who use our buses every day. It humanizes the bus service for them and earns their respect. It makes it easier to do my job. And if something goes down where I need help, they might remember me and have my back. I do the same with the operators. When I check in with a driver in the field, I always greet them with a smile and try to bring them a cold water. How you treat people has a domino effect. If you help them have a great day, that attitude spills over to everyone else they deal with.”

Ultimately, a Field Supervisor’s responsibility is to observe and report. Primarily their investigations are driven by complaints or commendations reported to the Omnitrans customer service line. A Field Supervisor may be assigned go into the field to watch what’s going on and take notes or asked to query video to verify the information received. Both complaints and commendations are investigated thoroughly to ensure their validity and to ensure they are connected to the correct driver. This can be difficult to do because often a customer doesn’t have the operator’s badge ID and coach number. They just have an area and approximate time frame, which takes longer to research. If performance standards are down, it is up to the Field Supervisor to figure out what’s happening.

“It’s hard when you know someone’s job is on the line,” says Roberta. “But it’s about being fair and adhering to the process.

The goal of the agency is to change the behavior through education and progressive discipline. Most of the time guidance and mentoring, along with classes designed to help improve customer service and driving skills, is enough to correct the problem.

“Operators have to understand the type of job they have. I was 21 when I started driving. I was such a little skinny chick, it used to scare people. Passengers would tease me and say ‘Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?’” Roberta laughs.  “It’s an immense obligation to know that you’re responsible for every person on that bus, for how well you’re driving and for how you talk to people. Anybody could be on that bus at any time. Once a mayor was on my bus and I didn’t know it. You don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize your reputation or the reputation of the company you work for.”

–Juno Kughler Carlson

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