My public transit journey: bus rider to travel trainer

A guest post by VTrans travel trainer Marcus Garcia

Marcus Garcia shows a VTrans client how to find schedule information using a bus book

What did you do to learn how to ride the bus?

Now having multiple years of riding experience under my belt, I am always interested in the responses from other Omnitrans riders who I have been able to get to know. Some were fortunate in that they were able to learn how to ride the bus from family members or close friends, while others transitioned at their own pace from other transportation modes like walking, biking, or driving. And the final group, which includes myself, seemed to have suddenly found themselves in need of transportation, and without driving as an option, had to quickly switch to using public transit as their new way of getting around town.

My journey with public transit began in 2011, where the engine of my 1997 Nissan Sentra finally quit on me, and the repair cost more than the worth of the car. At the time I was both working and living with family in the same Orange County city, so it wasn’t too difficult to get to work without a car. My problem was that although I was alright in terms of transportation to work, I preferred getting out and about over spending days off from work sitting inside the house. It just took four days after the failure of my Sentra’s engine for me to board an OCTA (Orange County Transportation Authority) bus for the first time.

The only knowledge which was of any help when it came to learning the bus schedules was the fact that I knew most of the major streets in the county, and that I knew where north, south, east, and west were. Through investigating the bus book, as well as some trial-and-error trips (with plenty of errors), I was slowly able to memorize the different OCTA routes. By the end of summer 2011, the longest single day trip I took using fixed-route OCTA buses came out to a total of 120 bus miles.

Even after getting another car and moving back to the Inland Empire, my interest in taking advantage of public transit continued, and hence began my travels with Omnitrans. The price of gas was fluctuating wildly at the time, and the maintenance costs for my car began, with a few hundred dollars here and another major repair there. Unlike driving, all that was required was a flat rate 31-day pass and I would be able to have unlimited rides throughout the entire Omnitrans system. Just as I had done in Orange County, I spent a number of days riding throughout the valley in order to learn all of the Omnitrans routes. Participating in the GoSmart College ID pilot program while attending Chaffey College further prompted my interest in using public transit as much as possible, as I no longer even had to worry about purchasing a 31-day pass. It was not unusual for my monthly ridership to total between 1,000 and 1,500 miles, as I lived in Chino Hills and traveled to Rancho Cucamonga at least five days per week.

When I had mastered the Omnitrans system and developed a full appreciation for the benefits of public transit, I began looking for ways to discuss public transit and related issues with other riders and enthusiasts. This is what initially motivated me to join the conversations on the Omnitrans Facebook page, as well as the Facebook pages of the other major transit agencies in Southern California. Submitting comments, driver compliments, and route suggestions through the online contact form was how I provided input to Omnitrans about my experiences as a regular rider of their system.

VTrans helps seniors and those with disabilities learn bus riding basics through personal hands-on training.

In April of this year, I took my interest in promoting the benefits of public transit to the next level, and became a Travel Trainer with Valley Transportation Services (VTrans). VTrans is one of Omnitrans’ partner agencies that works to coordinate transportation options for various target populations, such as seniors and people with disabilities. The VTrans Travel Training program seeks to open the door for greater independence and freedom to these two groups by teaching them how to ride Omnitrans fixed-route buses independently. For participants that have never ridden the bus before, trainers cover all of the basics like paying fare, etiquette while onboard, using the bus book, interacting with coach operators, and getting directions or other information using the Omnitrans website or customer service hotline. Trainers can also help people who have some experience already by helping them learn unfamiliar routes or with complex tasks like planning a trip with multiple transfers or over a long distance.

One of the most common concerns which I have come across as a Trainer is that participants have feared trying to use the bus in the past because they are too overwhelmed by the maps and timetables, and worried about getting lost at transit centers. Because I had to learn how to navigate through OCTA and Omnitrans transit centers all on my own, I can understand the frustration that these participants might feel. Travel Trainers are able to break down the process of concepts like transit centers to make them easier for participants to navigate. I have also been able to come up with creative solutions to assist clients with difficulty remembering information or even reading and writing, so that they too could be successful new riders.

It is a great privilege to be part of the VTrans Travel Training Team, and to be able to impact the lives of others through a transportation mode which has been so beneficial for myself. It is amazing to see how young adults around my age are thriving with a new sense of freedom, as upon completion of training they are able for the first time to visit their friends, go shopping, or catch a movie completely on their own. Senior participants who may not be able drive themselves any longer are embracing Omnitrans service as a path to visiting friends, family, and continuing to engage in the activities they love. Omnitrans fixed route service has the potential to improve the lives of many in the San Bernardino Valley, and I am glad to be able to lead participants to that door of opportunity.

– Marcus Garcia

To find out more about the VTrans Travel Training program or to sign up, please call the VTrans Main Office at 909-981-5099 during normal business hours. There is absolutely no cost to those who participate in the training program. 

Marcus served as a judge at the Omnitrans 2013 Bus Roadeo, a skills-based coach operator competition – photo by Janice Kuhn

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