Driving to Excellence : San Diego Transit’s Award-Winner Earns Rave Reviews

Times Staff Writer

Olanders Dallas, 54, starts his day at 4:57 a.m. driving an empty San Diego Transit bus. But by the time his day has ended at 3:57 p.m. he has carried a microcosm of San Diego on its daily rounds: Students to school, business people to work, mothers with bruised or coughing children to the doctor’s office, and senior citizens on their shopping rounds.

That Dallas conducts his activity with graciousness, courtesy and humor is evident by the attitude of his customers and what they say as they exit the bus: “Thanks so much,” “I’ll see you tomorrow,” “Have a good day.”

But his winning ways have also impressed his colleagues, who recently named Dallas San Diego Transit’s outstanding driver of the year, chosen from more than 500 drivers.

“I’ve known him for quite a few years as an operator, and he is an outstanding employee,” said Steve St. Pierre, assistant manager of transportation for San Diego Transit. “He treats passengers well, drives safely, works with his peers; he does these things consistently every day, and he does them well.”


Dallas’ love of work leaves his supervisors raving as well. “The man hasn’t been sick in years,” said Harry Flowerman, who supervises 30 other operators along with Dallas. “Look at this record. If all the operators were like him, I wouldn’t have a job. I’d have nothing to supervise.”

To look at this pleasant, low-key man, it would be hard to guess that he spent 20 years in the Marine Corps ordering soldiers to fall in line as a platoon commander, and breaking up brawls as an MP. Today Dallas’ harshest commands are “Watch your step” and “Everybody off, end of the line.”

But many of his Marine Corps experiences have helped him become a better bus driver, he said.

“This job takes a lot of discipline, which is one thing you learn in the Corps,” Dallas said. “I also learned how to be patient with people and how to deal with all kinds of people, and you can definitely relate that to bus driving. I like working with the people best of all.”

Dallas also tries to incorporate some of that Marine discipline into his daily routine by conducting morning work-outs for his colleagues, believing that a healthy, fit employee is a better, friendlier employee.

“I joke with them that this is the best way to get the day started,” Dallas said. “If they treat themselves well, they’ll start the day feeling well, and treat other people well. Sometimes they go along, sometimes they laugh it off. But we have a good time.”

Dallas works what is known in the business as a split run: Route 4 in the morning takes him up Imperial Avenue and into Clairemont; after a two-hour break, Route 7 in the afternoon takes him along a busy stretch of Broadway past Balboa Park and the zoo, then to 69th Street and University Avenue.

Dallas, who is 157th on the seniority list, could drive practically any route he wanted, but he chose the hectic split run because “I kind of like working that way.”


“It makes the day go by faster,” he said. “I have a couple of hours between runs and I can go home and have breakfast with my wife. It’s a nice change of pace.”

Route 7 is the busiest in the city, carrying more than 13,000 people a day. But far from being harassed by hot, frustrated riders, Dallas says that people are actually friendlier nowadays than they used to be.

“I remember seven or eight years ago when you would sometimes get a rowdy crowd or just unpleasantness,” he said. “But we don’t have near as many problems as we used to have. I’ve only had to contact police about five times in my entire career, mainly for fights. Overall, people have been great.”

Dallas also gives high marks to San Diego drivers, although he has at least one close call a day brought about by the reckless driving of others, he said. He said he has never been in an accident while driving his bus.


“Some people are just not good drivers,” Dallas said. “And some people don’t think buses should be out on the streets. They’ll cut us off or honk if they’re behind us. We would have a lot fewer accidents if people would be more courteous.”

After nine hours each day of abrupt stops, rude drivers and pedestrians, and crisscrossing and bisecting San Diego streets, one would think that Dallas would leave the driving to someone else. But he said his wife, Helen, refuses to drive the family car.

“She says I complain too much about her driving. I don’t know about that, but it would sure be nice to be chauffeured around for once instead of doing all the chauffeuring.”