Tag Archives: omnitrans

James Plasencia: coach operator, musician & artist

james plasencia on bus

Highland resident James Plasencia has been a coach operator with Omnitrans for 6 years. Prior to that, he worked for a year at Foothill Transit where he received his training.

“I like driving the bus, then setting it down in the yard at the end of the day and being done. I’ve had a lot of other jobs where you took work home with you and could never really let go of it. And I like being outdoors. Prior to working for Foothill, I was working for an insurance company in a cubicle with piles of files stacked up. As soon as I’d get rid of one stack of files, they would come and drop off another. And I would have to make notes to call people the next day, so I would take work home with me.”

“As a coach operator, the pay is also a lot better. Without a college degree, it’s hard to find a job where you make that kind of money. So I am very appreciative of that. When I’m out there, I see homeless people and other people who aren’t doing as well and I feel really fortunate to have a job like this. Basically if you can follow the rules, drive the bus, don’t have any accidents and treat people politely, you’re good. I say hi to everybody whether they respond or not. And most of the time when passengers leave my bus they say thanks. Your demeanor has a lot to do with how people react to you.”

Omnitrans sbX coach operator James Plasencia

“I enjoy being an sbX driver, and it’s been great to be part of the first wave of drivers doing this. It’s one of the better routes I’ve had. Everybody who comes in is impressed with the bus itself—they like the whole system. They’re interested in the middle lanes and looking at the lights and the station art. We get a lot of people who are sort of testing it out and want to ride from one end of the corridor and back again. They want to see if it fits their routine.”

His passengers would never suspect that, in his private life, James is also a talented musician and artist.

“Eddie Van Halen was my big inspiration,” he laughs. “I started playing guitar when I was 14. My dad and my uncle are both musicians. My dad would try to show me some chords, but they just weren’t edgy enough, you know? But I learned them. Then I heard Van Halen and I was like ‘That’s guitar?’ That’s that instrument? Okay now I’m interested.’”

That inspired James to take what his dad had taught him, practice and bring it to the next level. Later he attended The Musicians’ Institute in Hollywood to study music.

“I was really serious. I still am serious. I mean I don’t pick it up as much, but I’m always thinking about music and listening to bands. My dream was to be a studio musician. But it’s so hard, you know? There is just so much competition. Now I do mainly acoustic, but I get a lot of good feedback about my playing. I think I’m pretty strong at it.”

Painting by artist James Placensia

Surprisingly, it was actually art that came easiest to James. Adults first noticed his talent when he was around 7-years-old.

“In second or third grade, the teacher wanted us to draw our shoes,” James said. “So we had them up on our desks, and we were drawing them. She was really impressed with mine because it had shadows and all the little scuff marks—there was dimension to it. There was something there that was different. She even told my mom that she needed to think about putting me in art school. But my mom didn’t pursue it. So sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had been able to go to art school. That would have been pretty cool. Imagine what you could do if you had had the right education and been exposed to all those different mediums. It’s harder as an adult because now you’re trying to play catch up. You’re trying to learn it on the fly between work and family.”

sugar skulls

“I work a lot with acrylics because I feel I have more control over what I’m doing. Because I’m self-taught, I don’t really know the techniques. I just know what works best for me. If I can see it in my head and use acrylics to paint it, I know I can get close.”

art  by JP Studios

For the longest time I never considered myself an artist. People would always use that word with me and I’d go ‘I’m not an artist. I just like to draw and paint.’ But they would say things like you know art is expressing yourself. So you are an artist. It’s been hard to get comfortable with that. To me artists are great people who do these major works. I’m not like that. But maybe to be an artist is just to create, you know? You don’t have to know all the terms and techniques. I mean I’d still like to go to school and learn more, but I’ve met creative people who haven’t had any training but I like what they do. Just like musicians. I’ve met some fantastic musicians and when I asked them were they studied, they say they learned to play by ear. I think wow, that’s amazing. They are doing things that are so advanced. It’s the same with art.”

art by JP Studios

James credits his wife for encouraging him to pursue his creative gifts.

“She’s my biggest fan. I told her the other day I should make her my manager because she is always so supportive. She gets on social media and tells everyone about me and gets them to check out my page. Or if I’m doing an art show, she’s promoting that. It helps, and I really appreciate that.”

“When I first met her I was doing the music thing. I told her right off I was going to have to be going to a lot of rehearsals and gigs. She said ‘Oh that’s fine I like music.’ I was like ‘Really? You might have to come with me and help me load stuff.’ She told me ’That’s fine.’ I thought ‘Man, I have to marry this woman!’ And she cooks too! She’s a really good cook.“

James will have some of his art on display at the 5th Annual El Monte Dia de Los Muertos event on Saturday, October 18th from 1:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. The event takes place at El Monte Valley Mall (along Valley Mall Blvd.) from Lexington Ave to Cleminson St.

You can also view some of James’ art and photos from his studio on his Facebook page.

 - Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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Coach Operator shares culture, sports & life lessons

Omnitrans Coach Operator Landru Gaviria

Pasadena resident Landru Gaviria has been a coach operator at Omnitrans for the past 11 years.

Formerly with MTA in Los Angeles, he has honed both his driving and customer service skills by facing some challenging situations.

“I was used to a lot of hostile passengers,” he shrugged smiling. “But I know how to handle that. I simply treat them with respect. I imagine I am taking care of my mother, my sister, my relative. I treat everybody like family. That is the secret you know. Have a good personality and show people you care. This way everybody is happy. They respond to that.”

As Executive Board #1 with the Amalgamated Transit Union, Gaviria is also proud to serve as a Union rep.

Omnitrans West Valley Coach Operators

“It has been a great experience for me because it gives me the opportunity to help the drivers,” he said. “They are my brothers and sisters, and I speak for them with my heart. We are the front line for Omnitrans. I have a good relationship with both drivers and management and have faith that we can come together in a way that benefits everyone. I am happy here and glad that I have a job. Times are hard—not just here, but all over the world.”

Gaviria knows about hard times. He came to the States from Lima, Peru 41 years ago when he was just 19-years-old and seeking a better life. He found work and married Juanita, the love of his life and a former neighbor from Peru. Together they had three beautiful children.

Landru and Juanita Gaviria

Landru and Juanita Gaviria

Gaviria’s personal drive, his love of community and his passion for soccer continued to grow and eventually led to an unexpected opportunity as a columnist with a Peruvian newspaper.

“I was a semi-pro soccer player.” Gaviria explained. “People from Peru over here in Los Angeles know me as a soccer player. One day the editor from the Actualidad newspaper came to me and asked ‘Why don’t you write for us, since everybody knows you?’ I said okay, I’ll take the challenge. I began writing about soccer and, later, about news stories from Peru. Now I am a regular writer for the paper on both topics.”

Gaviria never forgot his roots , He decided to use his soccer connections to help other Peruvian children.  He created a non-profit organization called Los Hijos del Porvenir, which serves children ages 5-11.

Los Hijos del Porvenir - Peruvian soccer stars

“Our goal is to keep the children of Peru away from the streets by giving them a relationship with famous, old-time soccer stars. Each year we travel with these “Old Glory” soccer players to Peru to give the children a time of joy with food and entertainment. We help them with cash and, depending on their health, we provide groceries and medicine. We have minimum support from sponsors for these trips, so me and my wife Juanita finance the expenses.”

The Inka Foundation International of Cultura. Still, Gaviria felt there was more he could do for the community he loved. He became President of a second non-profit called The Inka Foundation International of Cultura. Its mission is to advance global awareness of Andean cultural traditions and knowledge. As part of their work, the foundation assists high school students from low income families who are Peruvian descendants living in the United States. The organization provides small grants to help with textbooks or tuition so they can continue their educational studies.

“For me, as a native Hispanic from Peru, it’s been very important to help the youth in their sports and studies and for my own children to have this example in life. I am so proud of my children,” said Gaviria emotionally. ”My daughter, Michelle Martinez, is a Councilwoman for Altadena and Vice-Chair of the California Republican National Assembly. My son Landru Gaviria studied Economics at UCLA and has his Masters in Business Administration. He has given me three beautiful grandsons and is a dedicated father and husband. My daughter Sholeh Arabia is a Doctor in Psychology and specializes in treating children and young adults with autism. They are all living good lives and helping others, and they say that they have learned this from us. This touches my heart and is my proudest achievement. God gave me this gift, and I am blessed. ”

- Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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SBPD SWAT practices emergency bus drills

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT drills with Omnitrans bus

Omnitrans works closely with local law enforcement agencies to ensure ensure the safety of our passengers in the event of an emergency.  Yesterday, the San Bernardino Police Department’s SWAT unit practiced training drills with one of our Omnitrans buses. The team was able to thoroughly familiarize themselves with our coaches, both inside and out, and to strategize action plans for different scenarios.

Below are photos from this event. Click to view larger. More photos can be found on our Flickr page. 

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT drills aboard Omnitrans

SBPD SWAT training drills

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT unit

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT

San Bernardino Police Department SWAT unit

SBPD SWAT

Click here for more photographs from this SBPD SWAT  training drill.

-  Photos by Juno Kughler Carlson

OmniTrans = Independence

A guest article written by Connie Jones, blogger for So I’m Legally Blind
Connie on her Omnitrans sbX bus ride

On my sbX bus ride

To me, the title of this post says it all! Without public transit, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school, work, the store, appointments etc. I’ve been legally blind since birth, and have never been able to drive.  So, like every independent visually-impaired girl, I hopped on the bus. Via the Omni, I was able to attend San Bernardino Valley College, and continue on to UC Riverside to complete my degree.  I’d catch the Omni at 6:30 AM and catch a couple of transfers to get to UC Riverside.  It took some serious time, but I did it!  With the help of Omnitrans, I was able to accomplish my goal of an education, meet some very interesting people and I learned that I can get to places on my own.  That meant the world to me!

Pointing at the customer service call box at the sbX station

Pointing at the customer service call box at the sbX station

Yes, Yes, I know, the bus can’t possibly be like driving a car, but for me, it allowed me to be independent. I’ve always imagined, ultimately, that’s what driving a car must feel like…the ability to get from one point to another.  I always remember how inexpensive it was for a day pass, and because I also had the disability identification card, it cost even less. I always ask if there’s a disability discount and Omni has always had that option.  Granted it did take time to get places, even using the Omnibus, but now they have the very nice sbX bus that bus is faster, has fewer stops, and is just plain awesome!

sbX ticket vending machines are also labeled in Braille

sbX ticket vending machines are also labeled in Braille

I work at the local university and they have a great rideshare program that has allowed me to catch a ride to work with one of my dearest friends. I’m a counselor who works with physically and visually-impaired students and I’m always talking to them about public transit options.  Luckily, I get to provide information about the Omnitrans Access Service for people with disabilities and now the sbX bus. Lack of transportation and providing information for individuals with visual impairments is one of the reasons why I started my blog, So, I’m Legally Blind.

Looking at the fare box with a day ticket

Looking at the fare box with a day ticket

Through my blog, I recently met Juno Carlson, a wonderful lady who does the Omni blog and we spent the morning on the sbX bus.  I loved it!  It has easy wheelchair access and tie downs for the wheelchairs. It also has several outlets where you can charge your phone, tablet and laptop. Very convenient! The machine where you pay is easy to read with large letters, has voice capability and is in Braille.  I really liked the large letters on the overhead board that provides transit info, etc.  Now, if I wanted to move, I could just catch the sbX and get to work faster.  Granted, the stops are fewer, but the sbX has stops in my area.  Every Omni bus driver I met couldn’t have been nicer.

Looking at the outlet that’s on the sbX for laptops, phones, tablets etc

I’m so grateful that Omnitrans was available to me when I was going to school and work. Now if I need to use the bus in the future….sbX awaits!

With the sbX coach operator

]With the sbX coach operator

 

 

Bridge Program students do bus role play

Coach operator Bridge Program

Our first Bridge Program class is  this week, and we’re here with a sneak peek behind-the-scenes. Funded by a Workforce Development Grant, the program introduces participants to the transit industry and teaches them how to apply for and successfully secure jobs as coach operators. 

The class covers everything from basic job application and interview tips to a general overview of coach operator skills. We had a little fun with them while they were doing coach operator and passenger role playing exercises.

The right way:

And the not-so-right way:

Omnitrans Board approves Veterans Fare for 2015

On October 1st, the Omnitrans Board of Directors  approved a fare change policy to provide a discounted fare for veterans and a free fare for active duty military and uniformed police and fire officers. The new fare goes into effect beginning January 2015, and will be accepted on all Omnitrans, sbX and OmniGo buses. It is not valid for Access ADA service.

New Fare Policy

Under the new policy, veterans are required to show a valid Veterans ID card while boarding in order to receive discounted fare. Acceptable ID cards include:

Active duty military personnel must wear the appropriate uniform at the time of boarding and present a valid U.S. Unformed Services ID card indicating active service or a Common Access card indicating uniformed services or active duty.

Police and fire personnel must be in full Class A uniform at the time of boarding.

Price of New Veterans Fare

Veterans will be able to purchase special veterans passes for 50% less than the full fare. These passes will be accepted on all Omnitrans, sbX and OmniGo buses. No veteran fare will be offered on Access curb-to-curb service. The cost of the new veterans passes will be:

  • Cash $0.75
  • Day Pass $2.25
  • 7-Day Pass $8.00
  • 31-Day Pass $27.50.

Public Response

Public feedback on  the new veterans fare has been overwhelmingly positive.

Osvaldo Maysonet, Veterans Specialist for VetLink, a strong supporter of the new veterans fare, believes it will enable many in the community he serves to get back on their feet again.

“Thank you on behalf of all Veterans who come January will be able to access their community in a very affordable, reliable, and dignified way,” said Maysonet.

Cyclist commutes successfully on 2, 4, or 6 wheels

This transit advocate enjoys the flexibility of combining his bike with the bus or sbX for local trips

“I take the bus whenever I don’t feel like sweating too much on my bike,” laughed Loma Linda resident Marven Norman when we caught up with him for a phone interview. “As a matter of fact, I’m on the sbX right now!”

An avid cyclist, Marven is also Vice President of the Inland Empire Biking Alliance. The group was formed to unify the cycling community to have a stronger voice in promoting bicycling for transportation and recreation.

“Right now the Inland Empire is one of the worst places for bikes. And it’s hard on drivers too,” said Marven. “Part of what we do is work with area agencies to improve the biking environment in our community with bike trails, bike lanes and other amenities.”

Marven has a strong interest in transit, from bikes and buses to trains and planes. He educated himself on transit planning issues a few years ago when looking into the possibility of new bike lanes.

“I realized pretty quickly that there was a bigger picture to be considered. It wasn’t just about putting paint to pavement. From that I also developed a strong interest in sustainable living and urban renewal.”

His first experience with Omnitrans was as a Valley College student in the Go Smart Program, which provided students at participating colleges with unlimited rides with their student ID. He liked the fact that he could save money and not worry about the hassles of campus parking.

Later he went on to get his Bachelors in Psychology from Cal State San Bernardino and now works as a substitute teacher for the San Bernardino School District. Although he owns a car, he still often favors a combination of bike and bus to get where he needs to go.

He believes more people would consider switching to bikes if more bike lanes were available, because it’s a fast and simple way to get around for quick trips. And for longer distance travel, challenging terrain or bad weather, it can be easily combined with the bus. With California’s recent approval of triple bike racks for buses, along with new bus rapid transit (BRT) coaches that offer interior bike racks, public transportation in the Inland Empire is slowly becoming friendlier to cyclists.

There’s also a growing sense of community among cyclists themselves, and many of them lend a hand to each other when riding the bus.

“If two of us get to the bus at the same time, we’ll usually talk and figure out who will be getting off first so we can set up the bikes accordingly. It makes it easier to unload your bike that way,” said Marven. “And sometimes on the bus when I see other cyclists trying to board and the racks are full, I’ll get off and bike to my destination. Most of the time I’m not going that far, and I can get there just as quickly on my bike. I’m also not intimidated by traffic like some cyclists, so I really don’t mind.”

As for the future, Marven is looking forward to Omnitrans’ development of the West Valley Connector Corridor. In addition to more BRT coaches, he hopes to see more bike improvements in the area.

- Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

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