Three years ago, Adam Martinez was using a computer to control the care and feeding of flowers in a commercial greenhouse in Oxnard.
Today, he's using a computer to make life a little easier for the county's baffled travelers, steering them through a dizzying array of mass transit options.
Martinez, 38, of Ventura is chief operator and the only full-time employee of the Ventura County Transportation Commission's Dial-A-Route service. State transit assistance funds, allocated to Ventura County, pay for the $21,900-a-year program.
People who rely on public transportation dial a toll-free number, tell Martinez where they are and where they need to go. He taps a few computer keys, then tells the caller where to stand, what bus to board and how much the trip will cost.
It can be a difficult task in a county where the eight local bus systems aren't linked well.
Martinez will suggest Amtrak trains and airport shuttles if they are the only way to get a caller to a destination. "I try to go to extremes and help them make connections," he said.
He and a part-time co-worker handle most of the 20 to 30 Dial-A-Route calls that the Ventura office receives each weekday.
One recent morning, Martinez told a caller how to take a bus from Westlake Center to Newbury Park High School.
He was less successful that morning when a woman asked how to get from Simi Valley to Thousand Oaks. Martinez explained that the two cities' bus systems don't connect, but she could get to Thousand Oaks by taking a long bus ride through the San Fernando Valley.
The woman thanked Martinez but didn't say whether she would follow his suggestion.
"People are usually aware that riding public transportation is more economical," he said. "The only disadvantage is when the communities aren't connected.
"Sometimes, when people call a city system, and there aren't connections, they tell the people to call Dial-A-Route. We have to be the mediator. All we can do is inform them of what our plans are. We let them know we are aware of the gaps, and we are working to close them."
The Transportation Commission has begun asking the county and area cities to help pay for three new intercity bus lines and to revise the route of a fourth, existing line.
In the meantime, Martinez uses his computer, linked to a transit database in Los Angeles, to help callers plan their trips via services that are already available.
He helped a Times reporter plot a one-day bus trip through nine of the county's 10 cities. At one point, the computer proposed a five-hour ride from Thousand Oaks to Simi Valley by way of LAX and Union Station in Los Angeles.
Martinez explained later that the computer failed to find a shorter RTD bus route through the San Fernando Valley because part of the RTD schedule had just been removed from the system for updating.
Because of the need to compile a large amount of data from Ventura County's bus systems alone, the Dial-A-Route program took longer than anticipated to set up, said Mary Travis, the Transportation Commission's manager of transportation programs.
"We literally did it stop by stop to get that geographic closeness, so people would get to the closest bus stop to their house, not just the closest one on the printed schedule," she said.
Eventually, the commission hopes the computer will be able to mail countywide bus passes to callers who provide a charge card number. Currently, each bus system sells its own passes.
When the Dial-A-Route program was launched in January, 1991, Martinez was hired because of his "unique combination of skills," Travis said.
"You have to be a people person because you're dealing with young people or old people or people who may be stressed because (their) car has broken down," she said. "You have to be able to use a computer and pull up some complicated information.
"And we wanted someone who spoke English and Spanish because a lot of our riders are Spanish-speaking. Adam's worked out very well."
The Ventura County Transportation Commission provides free information on how to get around the region on mass transit through its Dial-A-Route service. Operators are on duty weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The toll-free number is 1-800-438-1112.