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In 1991, when he was still a sophomore at UCLA, Maurice Vanegas used his credit card to finance the purchase of a second-hand bus. Today, Vanegas is the president and owner of Transit Systems Unlimited Inc., a charter bus service, and American Fleet Services, a repair service for medium and heavy-duty trucks. In the seven years since he began, his two companies have grown to a business with $1.1 million in revenues in 1997. Together, the two companies employ seven full time and 20 part time staffers. Transit Systems now operates with a fleet of 26 buses and mini vans, and Vanegas has built a client list that includes the Hollywood Bowl and Cal State Northridge. “He personifies 110 percent effort,” said Ed Tom, supervisor of operations at the Hollywood Bowl. A trailer on the same one-acre lot that houses his buses in Pacoima serves as Vanegas’ office. “I could move my business in one day if I had to,” said Vanegas. While the outward trappings of Vanegas’ business are modest, the former UCLA engineering student thinks big. “I would like to be extremely diversified,” he says. “The bus business is only the beginning.” Vanegas’ expansion into American Fleet Services was the first step toward that goal. Realizing that the cost of servicing his buses and vans was cutting into his profits, he set up a second company in 1993 to maintain his own vehicles. Since then, American Fleet Services has picked up a number of outside clients, including United Parcel Service and Penske Truck Leasing. Vanegas came to the United States from Colombia at the age of 10 with his parents and grew up in Glendale, attending Glendale High School. His first bus cost $6,000, financed with credit cards and scholarship money while he was attending UCLA. Vanegas quickly secured a contract with the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl maintains a shuttle service for concert-goers in 18 locations citywide, and Vanegas handles two such locations. His second venture was more risky,and expensive. Vanegas bought the truck repair company for $170,000. “The monthly payments were very hard to make,” he acknowledged. In addition, customers had demanding standards of service, one even wanted new engine filters installed at 3:30 in the morning. He has recently qualified for a $25,000 micro-loan from the Community Development Bank that was arranged by the Valley Economic Development Council. That infusion has eased the financial burden somewhat. But with higher operations costs, Vanegas admits he watches the bottom line closely. He offers no health insurance, and he said the salaries he pays to his mechanics and drivers are somewhat lower than the going market rate. In exchange Vanegas said he offers steady employment and a caring environment. In addition, employees who wish to may participate with him as partners in a private venture to buy houses in foreclosure and resell them at a profit. Clients point out that Vanegas brings a similar attitude to the way he operates his business. According to the Hollywood Bowl’s Tom, he makes the job of shuttling concert goers to and from the Bowl into “a real team environment.” To avoid delays, Vanegas sometimes packs sack lunches for his drivers, who would otherwise break off from the bus schedule at meal time. “It’s real refreshing to see someone take all the elements of an operation into consideration,” said Tom. Terry Mackey, operations director for the Raging Waters theme park, which supplements its own bus fleet with vehicles chartered from Transit Systems Unlimited, also tells of how Vanegas goes the extra mile. When the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was conducting hearings into a proposed expansion for Raging Waters, Vanegas showed up to testify on behalf of his client, Mackey said. And when he and his staffers make the rounds to inspect buses for safety and other details, Vanegas’ team also inspects the Raging Waters-owned buses, “even though he doesn’t have to,” Mackey said. Today, Vanegas said, “life is a breeze, compared with those days” when he was starting out. He is negotiating to buy a 1.5 acre property in Pacoima to relocate his business, and he is looking for additional business expansion opportunities. One development Vanegas is eyeing closely is a proposal to divide up the city’s bus service into separate, regional systems. Vanegas said he wants to bid for a maintenance contract if one becomes available. “I am the best candidate,” said Vanegas. “I take buses down to their skeleton and rebuild them. I even know how to drive them.” Although his business base is in transportation, Vanegas is also looking at expansion opportunities in different areas. Any expansion will likely take place from his home base in Pacoima, where Vanegas also lives. Vanegas said he has a strong feeling for the San Fernando Valley in general, and Pacoima in particular. “The public perception of Pacoima as crime ridden and run down is a “misperception,” he said. “Look at my fence,” he said, referring to the minimal chain-link partition surrounding his yard. “If you want to steal something, you can go right in,” he said. “I’ve had one generator stolen in three years. “The people here are poor, but they are very moral, which comes from a religious background,” said Vanegas. SNAPSHOT AMERICAN FLEET SERVICES and TRANSIT SYSTEMS UNLIMITED INC. Year founded: 1991 Headquarters: Pacoima Core Business: Charter-bus rental and truck repair Employees in 1993: 4 full time and 8 part-time Employees in 1998: 7 full time and 20 part-time Revenues in 1997: $1.1 million. Top Executive: Maurice Vanegas, President Goal: To constantly grow and diversify the business Driving Force: To fill the demand for affordable bus-charter services, as well as providing a regional source of truck repair for the truck fleets of national companies

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