Tag Archives: vintage bus

A Closer Look at Omnitrans’ Growth from a Past Driver’s Perspective

Change is unavoidable, especially for a public transit agency in the ever-changing landscape of Southern California, but taking a closer look at how things were 40 years ago illustrates just how far Omnitrans has come! This month, as we celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we connected with one of our original employees – Richard Breeden – who was integral in developing some important practices that are still part of our daily operations in connecting our community.

It was 1958 when Richard joined San Bernardino Valley Transit, which would become Omnitrans. After being discharged from the US Army, and a short stint at Santa Fe Railroad, Richard saw a job opening for bus drivers and decided to apply, hoping to utilize his experience as an Army driver. After completing a test drive, he was asked if he could begin the 14-day training process the next day.

“I was given a rule book to read before coming in the next day,” remembers Richard of the fast-paced process. “I had to learn all the routes, rules, regulations, operation procedures, and fares all in one night!”

Richard Breeden

Richard in action as the first bus driver trainer around the time Omnitrans was formed.

Many things were different in the transit world in those days. Base fare was 25 cents, the buses did not have wheelchair lifts, and there was no air conditioning for those hot summer days! In addition to conducting a 20-40 foot bus without power-steering, it was the driver’s duty to collect fare, sort it and run it through a changer to generate change for the next stop. Hello, forearms of steel! 

It was only Richard’s seventh day of training when he was asked to train a fellow student! Hesitantly, Richard complied with the dispatcher’s request and from that moment forward, he was no longer a student, but as a trainer.

Of course, that’s not how it works today. Four decades later, Omnitrans’ coach operators must complete five to six weeks of training and education with a certified trainer, including classroom work, behind the wheel experience, and even a state-of-the-art coach simulator with the most advanced technology.

In 1962, Richard was the employee who took the initiative to approach the city of San Bernardino to voice the need for formal training of our drivers. A few months later, a sign-up sheet was posted for anyone interested in being a trainer. Richard did not sign up.

When the transit manager asked why his name was not on the list, Richard responded that he was “happy being a bus driver.” After being convinced to add his name to the pool of applicants, he scored an interview and was selected for the newly created role.

After developing a comprehensive three-week training program that included diagrams and obstacle courses, City Hall approved Richard’s plan. The students’ training period culminated with a test created by Richard, which required a passing score of 80% or higher. Those who scored below that threshold were terminated.

Richard Breeden

Richard came back to Omnitrans for a visit last summer and posed with Old Blue, our vintage 1958 bus, which he found and was also the first to drive at special events around town.

In the years following, Richard revamped the driver’s rule book, and partnered with the National Safety Council to create the Million Mile Club for transit operators, an exclusive club for drivers who have driven 1,000,000 miles accident-free. He strengthened our partnerships with law enforcement by coordinating mutually beneficial trainings on our vehicles, and created positive relations between Omnitrans and community organizations including coordination of the first employee blood drive after a mechanic’s daughter found herself in need during surgery. The blood drive continues to this day.

Richard retired in 2000 as Fleet Safety and Training Supervisor at Omnitrans, but returned for special events to drive our 1958 vintage bus, Old Blue, which he found and drove for the first time. Although we have vastly grown from a small agency of just 29 vehicles in 1976, it is employees such as Richard who had the foresight to implement ideas that continue to impact our agency four decades later.

Omnitrans is now on Instagram!

We love taking photos, and Instagram is the perfect place to show them off! Follow @Omnitrans to see everything from vintage throwbacks from our archives to great candid and behind-the-scenes shots. Below are some of the photos we’ve shared recently. Click on each picture to go to the actual post.

Have you taken any great Omnitrans shots?  Share them with us using hashtag #omnitrans!

sbX bus rapid transit launch day – photo by Juno Kughler Carlson

Mmmmm Omni donuts! – photo by Janice Kuhn

1980s Omni Flex Service – from the Omnitrans photo archives

Twilight at Omnitrans bus yard – photo by Juno Kughler Carlson

Elvis impersonator on an Omnitrans bus – Omnitrans photo archives

Stuffing buses at the Spark of Love Toy Drive – photo by Janice Kuhn

Omnitrans at the end of the rainbow – photo by Caroljo Mitchem

Bus cleaning on a rainy night – photo by Juno Kughler Carlson

 

Andy Novak’s lifelong love of public transit

Transit advocate Andy Novak stands next to Omnitrans vintage bus Old Blue

Transit advocate Andrew Novak stands beside “Old Blue,” a 1958 vintage GMC transit coach restored by Omnitrans

For as far back as he can remember, Andy Novak has always been interested in public transit. As a child, he inherited his dad’s and grandfather’s love of trains which soon expanded to include buses as well.

“When I was a kid I used to love looking at the RTD [Southern California Rapid Transit District] maps and schedules,” chuckles Andy. “I was fascinated by the fact that someone could get on a bus and ride halfway across the city on a route.”

Later, as an adult, he found other people on the Internet who also liked buses.  He became actively involved with groups like Transit Advocates and The Motor Bus Society that would occasionally meet up to ride service or go on trips.

“The groups are pretty diverse, which makes it interesting. Many of the members also work within the transit industry as drivers, planners and mechanics. In addition to planning group trips, we help promote ridership and provide feedback to agencies based on our experience.”

Eventually he started a website called Rapid Transit Press (RTP), which featured his own books and photo galleries dedicated to public transit. In 2007 he published a special issue of his RTP New and Views magazine which covered 30 years of Omnitrans history and featured Old Blue on the cover.

RTP News and Views

Click to view this issue of RTP News and Views

“I had the chance to actually ride Old Blue back in 2006, during a Pacific Bus Museum trip,” Andy reminisced. “It was a great piece of history and the restoration job was nicely done. I think the older buses had a lot more character and style than you see today.”

Today Andy works as a ticketing department manager for Coach USA in Anaheim. The charter bus company offers sightseeing tours, airport shuttles, Megabus service and Amtrak thruway connections.

He is looking forward to the launch of the sbX rapid transit line and to getting a closer look at the new 60-foot articulated coaches.

“Good public transit is not only important, it’s a necessity. Not everyone can afford a car and not everyone can drive. And for others, it’s fun to just get on a bus and not have to worry about driving.”

Andrew Novak and members from the Motor Bus Society pose with Old Blue during a 2012 visit at Omnitrans. Click for larger image.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Blue at the Route 66 Rendezvous

Our beloved Old Blue was shined up and decked out with lights at the Route 66 Rendezvous over the weekend. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to climb aboard and say hello!

The Story of Old Blue

In 1998, Omnitrans began the search for an antique bus to be used for special events. The goal was to purchase and restore the vehicle in time for the agency’s 25th Anniversary in 2001. Omnitrans found Old Blue, a 1958 vintage GMC transit coach, in the care of a bus collector in New Jersey in 1999, and purchased it for $2,500. The agency has since learned that the bus began its life in service for the Los Angeles Regional Transit District, so it was actually brought “back home” to Southern California – via flatbed truck, since Old Blue wasn’t in very good shape when Omnitrans acquired it.

Work on the bus began in 1999, with major restoration efforts really getting underway in 2000. Old Blue needed a lot of TLC, and Omnitrans employees worked both on and off the clock to make necessary mechanical repairs. Once that was complete, the Maintenance Department asked some special vendors to help give the bus a much-needed facelift. McCray’s provided a new paint job, Complete Coach Works renovated Old Blue’s seats, Transit Care provided new window glass, and Firestone donated new tires.

Finally, Omnitrans selected a special coach number for the bus: 5876. The first two numbers represent Old Blue’s model year, and the final two represent the year Omnitrans was born, 1976.

At last, in February 2001, Old Blue debuted as the Omnitrans 25th Anniversary mascot. Old Blue has been the hit of community events both large and small, from local holiday parades to San Bernardino’s Route 66 Rendezvous, an event that draws nearly half a million auto enthusiasts each year.