People Movers: Big Kids on the Block

LCT Staff
Posted on January 1, 2004

Kristina Bouweiri has seen her business grow considerably since Reston Limousine Service in Sterling, Va., won its first government shuttle contract in 1991. Winning that first contract put Reston on a list of companies that accept bids for shuttle services from U.S. government agencies.

Today, the company has 60 contracts with various agencies and corporations to provide shuttle service with its 25 vans and 49 minibuses, says Bouweiri, president and CEO. Much of Reston’s work are shuttle services that allow employees to get from one corporate site to another without driving or taking a cab.

“Especially in Washington, a lot of companies have expanded and there’s no space, so they get offices in Maryland and Virginia and they hire shuttle services like mine,” Bouweiri says.

She notes that most of her new business comes from people who see her vehicles on the road. Bouweiri runs her corporate and agency shuttle services weekdays during business hours, and then does moonlight tours of Washington, wedding shuttle service on Saturdays and shuttle service for churches on Sundays.

The company’s profits have increased because one vehicle is doing so many things. “We have found that out of the four types of vehicles we have, the buses work seven days a week,” she says.

Using people movers – vans, motorcoaches minibuses, limo vans and limo buses – for multiple jobs is key, says Brent Bell, president of Bell Trans in Las Vegas.

Bell Trans, which used to be more of a limo and taxicab business, added people movers to its fleet because it saw a demand to carry large groups of people in one vehicle at one time.

Bell started with a couple of minibuses and grew from there. The company now has 101 minibuses; seven deluxe minibuses with reclining, high-back seats TVs, VCRs and stereos; nine vans, and three limo buses.

His people movers are used for convention work, tours, bachelor and bachelorette parties, parking shuttle and charter service.

“Having these types of vehicles in a fleet means keeping clients,” says Tom Sturdivant, owner and CEO of Sedan on Demand in Nashville, Tenn. He notes that being able to move large groups of people with one vehicle makes an operator a one-stop shop. “You definitely don’t want to say no to a client or turn a customer away.”

Sturdivant added people movers to his fleet when he began receiving more inquiries from clients for moving large groups.

Sedan On Demand now has seven vans, one limo bus and two minibuses. His people movers do everything from tours, convention and corporate work to special-event service.

Operators tend to keep people movers anywhere from three to six years. Despite the low resale value – about 20% to 25% of original price – Bouweiri says the person she buys her vehicles from will try to find buyers for her old equipment. She’s even had a buyer ship her used vehicles overseas.

The DMC Viewpoint

For a destination management company like Agenda: Kansas City, people movers are an important part of the services it provides. DMCs help corporate and other groups that are coming into a city for a meeting or event manage the local services – including ground transportation, catering and meeting venues – that are needed. DMCs typically hire limousine companies to provide some or all of their clients’ local ground transportation needs.

Agenda operates a limousine subsidiary that includes four minibuses. General Manager Alton Hagen says those minibuses are not a big money maker for the company but were added to improve the level of service Agenda provides.

Hagen says his company doesn’t have limo buses or vans because it is more focused on corporate work and doesn’t target the night on the town, prom or wedding markets. See “The ABCs of DMCs” in the October issue of LCT for more information on DMCs. Visit www.adame.org for a list of DMCs.

Planning for a People Mover

Prices for minibuses typically begin at about $65,000. Vans start at about $28,000 and limo vans are more expensive.

Full-size motorcoaches start at about $325,000, and a limo bus starts at about $90,000. Prices for limo vans and buses vary considerably based on customized features.

Operators typically keep people movers for about three to six years, longer than they typically keep sedans or limousines. Maintenance on these high-mileage vehicles can be expensive. Bouweiri puts about 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year on her people movers, compared to about 30,000 miles a year on her limousines and sedans.

She estimates she spends about $30,000 on each minibus and $15,000 on one van in maintenance during a three-year period.

Hagen of Agenda keeps his vehicles four to five years. He estimates maintenance for his four minicoaches costs about $300 to $500 per vehicle a month.

Some operators use graveyard-shift mechanics to keep the fleet up and running. “You can’t really serve your customers without a mechanic because if you have problems, you can’t wait for the warranty people to fix it,” Bouweiri says.

Don’t Forget About Regulations

Any vehicle that seats 16 or more passengers must adhere to rules set by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Drivers of these vehicles must have a commercial drivers license and pass written and physical tests. All drivers must be tested for drugs before hire and then randomly.

In addition, maintenance files must be available for DOT officials to review at any time. Regulators can check drivers’ logs to monitor that they have not been on the road for more than 10 hours. Vehicles must be in good working order. For example, a vehicle with a headlight that is out can be shut down. More information on rules and regulations are at www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

Why Buy a Limo Bus?

Bell, Sturdivant and Bouweiri say that limo buses are more likely to be used for leisure work like bachelor or bachelorette parties, and nights on the town.

Sturdivant of Sedan on Demand notes that some insurance carriers don’t want to insure sedans or SUVs that have been stretched more than 130 inches unless they have QVM or CMC certification. This is where a limo bus comes in, providing the same luxury as a limousine while allowing an operator to move larger groups.

Sturdivant says he is more likely to use his limo bus for leisure jobs, like a progressive dinner package he offers in which people go to different restaurants for each course of the meal.

What Operators Should Know

Here are a few tips from experienced operators: * Consider buying used equipment. * First look at potential and existing customers to determine their needs. * Don’t buy a vehicle with one purpose in mind; plan on using it for multiple jobs. * Buy one people mover, such as a minibus and grow slowly. “Start marketing it and when that bus gets booked,” Bouweiri says. “Rather than buy another bus, farm out the work until you can really afford to have a second bus.”

Is It a Van or a Shuttle: Inside a People Mover

There are few hard-and-fast definitions about what constitutes a van, minibus, motorcoach or any other type of people mover.

They can seat anywhere from a handful to about 55 passengers. Interiors can range from bare-bones plastic seating to those that encompass the most lavish amenities coachbuilders can dream up.

Here are some rough guidelines: * Van/shuttle: Typically seats between 10 and 15 passengers with few luxury amenities. * Limo van: Typically seats 15 passengers with a limousine-style interior that might include leather seats, TVs, bars and other amenities. * Minibus/minicoach: Generally seats 12 to 40 passengers with no particular amenities. Upgrades can encompass TVs, VCRs, reclining seats and leather interior. * Motorcoach or bus: Typically seats at least 24 passengers. * Limo bus: Generally seats between 35 to 55 passengers with a limousine-style interior. Some limo buses are designed for fewer passengers, such 16 to 18.

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