Tag Archives: student coach operators

Omni Profile: From Coach Operator to Trainer

Steve SisnerosName: Steve Sisneros
Joined Omnitrans: 2002
Previous positions: Coach Operator, Coach Operator Instructor
Promoted: April 2015
New Position: Fleet Safety and Training Instructor

“Having been a Coach Operator, I understand what’s it like to be out there every day as a driver. And as a former Coach Operator Instructor, I know how to teach and evaluate students to help them succeed. I guess you could say I’ve been on both sides of the table.

“In some ways it allows me to approach things with a fresher perspective. For a lot of our seasoned trainers, it’s been 10 or 12 years since they were coach operators.  A lot has changed since then–especially in technology–and that brings new challenges.

“Take cell phones, for example. Before, people would just pay their fare and find a seat. Now you have passengers who are talking on the phone or trying to text while they are at the farebox. A action that normally takes seconds now can take minutes while they fumble for their fare. It slows down the line of people waiting to board and can put you behind schedule. Sometimes it’s a doctor call or something that can’t be helped. It’s important for our coach operators to know how to politely handle that situation. It could be as simple as asking the person to step aside or take a seat while the other passengers board, then come up and pay their fare once they have their money or pass ready for the farebox.

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First day on the job. The training staff give Steve’s cubicle the traditional TP welcome.

 

“Controlling a coach and becoming familiar with the different quirks of each vehicle is relatively easy. Learning to manage passengers is a skill that can take a lifetime to master.

“As a training instructor, I want to keep  classes interesting and applicable to situations coach operators will run into on a regular basis. There’s a lot of material they have to absorb and skills they must become proficient in. My job is to help them succeed. Part of the reason I wanted to become a trainer was so that I could help make a difference in other people’s lives.

“I guess the most surprising moment for me so far was when a class I had been working with graduated. I was sending them on their way out the door, when one of them turned around and asked if they could hug me. I laughed and said sure. One by one they each came up and gave me a big hug. It still makes me blush, but it showed me that they appreciated my part in their training. It was a very humbling and unexpected experience.”

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A visit with Omnitrans student coach operators

Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Steve McClure and a student coach operator go through routes on the system map

Our latest group of student coach operators spent time this week both in the classroom and out in the bus yard, mastering the customer service and technical skills they will need before going out on the road. I stopped by the training room yesterday to visit the class to see how it was going so far.

“Probably the most challenging thing so far is having to learn all 26 routes within a couple of weeks. It’s rough, but we can do it,” says one of the students confidently. The rest of the class nods, smiling.

“Christina’s been teaching us to use key words to help us remember each route,” adds another student. “For example, I remember that the route on Baseline and 16th is the 67  because 1 + 6 = 7. For some reason that sticks for me.”

Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Christina Diaz has no doubt her charges will be ready to pass their final test. “They are on this.  They’re a great group and they’re absorbing information like sponges.”

Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Christina Diaz

She points out there’s a lot more more memorization involved in training that most people realize. Not only do student coach operators have to remember the routes, they also have to commit to memory all the radio codes and fare box codes as well. This means lots of study time at home after  class.

The trainers also ensure the students experience public transit firsthand from a rider perspective. They have them ride the system in addition to learning to drive it.

“Earlier this week we dropped each of them off in different parts of Montclair,” laughs Christine. “And they had to figure out what buses to take to get back to the San Bernardino office. They actually did very well.”

Many of the students have operated large vehicles before, which they point out can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Sometimes it means there are bad habits they have to break–like how to handle the steering wheel.

One of the students demonstrates how NOT to hold the steering wheel.

“Hand positions are at 10-2, 9-3, or 8-4 and should be kept on the outside rim of the wheel,” explains Christina.

“And no palming or putting your hand in the crossbar,”says a young man in the back.”The wheel could spin suddenly and you could get hurt or cause an accident”

Christina grins proudly. “See? They’ve got this.”

The class laughs. They joke with each other, mimicking examples of bad drivers at the wheel. They are obviously a close knit crew and have already bonded over the past two weeks. All of them are looking forward to going out in the field with coach operator instructors next week and driving the routes.

As I get ready to leave, they wave and say goodbye.

“Make sure you’re here on graduation day to take our picture,” calls out one of the women. “You’re going to need a wide lens ’cause we are all going to graduate. We’re in this together!”

-Juno Kughler Carlson
juno.carlson@omnitrans.org 

Student coach operators clocking out at dispatch at the end of the day