2021 40 Under 40: Omar De Leon

Nov. 23, 2021
Omar De Leon, Public Transit Manager, Collier Area Transit
  • One word to describe yourself: Inquisitive
  • Fun fact about yourself: I love to explore the outdoors and now I get to discover new trails with my kids.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): VIA San Antonio Transfer Station, it’s a beautiful hub for the community not only for transportation but also for events/gatherings.

Omar De Leon started his transit career as a call center reservationist with McDonald Transit, greeting the public and helping them navigate the system for Collier Area Transit (CAT). He was promoted to lead customer service representative after two years on the job. One year later, he was promoted to administrative coordinator responsible for helping with grant preparation, preparing statistical reports, participating in the local coordinating board evaluations and assisting with triennial reviews. De Leon moved up in ranks for various vendors who served as operators for CAT and gained experience in fixed route, paratransit, information technology and planning.

In September of 2015, the Collier County hired De Leon to be senior planner for the transit system, a key role with the agency due to its growth through the intervening years. He was responsible for preparing the annual Transit Development Plan updates and serving as project manager for the major updates. In this planning role, he also coordinated with the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the preparation of the Long Range Transportation Plan, as well as serving on MPO advisory committees. De Leon also coordinates with transit colleagues in adjacent Lee County to ensure the service between the jurisdictions is seamless for the public.

Similar to his private sector experience, Omar’s expertise and professionalism was rewarded with a promotion to transit manager for CAT. In this, his current role, he has envisioned and facilitated many programs, system upgrades and enhancements; always with the objective to streamline customer interaction and improve the rider’s transit experience. His role in implementing mobile ticketing and Wi-Fi access on the buses are just two examples of that commitment. De Leon has earned the respect of not only his peers but also his county subordinates, while his professional and congenial manner instills motivation to deliver results and formulate creative ideas to expand accessibility and increase ridership. His management of the contract system operator, MV Transportation, is very similar, resulting in good corporate relations, high driver productivity, customer satisfaction and safety. He attends various industry trade shows and seminars, accompanied by a staff member or two to share the knowledge and affording them career development opportunities. He has successfully completed the Florida Public Transit Association Leadership Certification. On the marketing front, De Leon is not afraid to do whatever it takes to promote all that the CAT system has to offer, including preparing and participating in on-air advertisement or interviews. His natural enthusiasm makes it look easy. Bottom line, De Leon is committed to transit and is a true career professional who has contributed significantly to the industry in his 15 years of service.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

No, not just one. I started using public transportation when I lived in Los Angeles and learned the importance of mobility, using it to get to the high school I was attending and then heading to work afterward. The ridership demographic was so diverse in every way it would make me think of all the connection points that it was creating not only in relationships but also in endless possibilities of everyone’s destination.

My transit career started as a customer service representative and I have been able to move up the ranks to my current position as transit manager. I have worked for a private transportation provider and now local government, the culmination of being a regular user of public transportation and having worked through the different positions within the agency has provided me a different perspective to decision making.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Seeing the direct impact of my work and contributing to the growth of the county where I work. Whether it’s riding the bus, attending events or public meetings, I enjoy having conversations with the riders and hearing about how it has such a positive impact on their lives. In addition, the joy from helping train, collaborating and gaining additional knowledge and tools to improve services, operations and customer service. Lastly, transit is filled with passionate individuals who believe in what they do. It’s a network that you can count on to answer the phone or respond to your email no matter how simple or complicated the question.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is the planning of service, while evaluating the data, public outreach and inferring the decision-making processes of riders/potential riders. You plan for increases of service usage and accessibility, but it can be difficult to make everyone happy and be efficient with the use of resources. Planning along with riders’ expectation and the rapidly changing trends it can be challenging to process all the available data to understand the true issues, opportunities and potential roadblocks. To that effect, as technology continues to evolve, it becomes easier and quicker to make decisions on modifications and implementation of different modes.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I am very grateful for the journey and experiences I have had in transit. I started as a customer service representative straight out of high school. My intention was not to become a transit manager, but the examples of those who I have worked for and my eagerness to not stop learning has led me to where I am now. I can’t identify a specific accomplishment but an accumulation of experiences and decisions that have led to positive impacts to the agency and the community.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Complacency is not an option. No matter the position you are in, its important to continue to study your trade. Also, something I have learned from a previous manager is not to hold on to the knowledge you have for “job security” but be eager to share and teach because you are only stunting the growth of your team and negatively impacting the success of the agency.

Collier Area Transit (CAT)
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