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?”
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