Operations

How To Ramp Up Your Fleet For Special Events

Jim Luff
Posted on April 7, 2012

In our quest to land accounts and special event contracts, we sometimes find that we have bitten off more than we can chew. As a fellow operator, I have been there. Once the proposal is accepted and what was originally planned to be transportation for 50 becomes 70, you might need more vehicles. The client usually has no idea what the burden is when 20 extra passengers are added to the workload. Using extra vehicles requires many considerations.

NO. 1: When to add vehicles
Running airport pickup trips is by far the most volatile type of scheduling. A single delay of 30 minutes can upset logistics if the delayed vehicle is scheduled for later assignments. I like to use a rule of thumb of two hours between projected drop-off time and next scheduled pickup time. If you can’t achieve that, you probably should consider adding another vehicle. Sometimes clients may request a type of vehicle not in your fleet. You can either rent one for the day (depending on state regulatory laws) or use an affiliate that has the vehicle. Requests are not always for luxury vehicles. Handling luggage with a cargo van is a fairly common request. However, Scott Woodruff of Majestic Limo and Coach of Des Moines, Iowa, recently went really big and rented three full size moving vans to handle the transportation and storage of luggage for a Chinese delegation in their area.  

NO. 2: Where to get vehicles
Where you obtain additional vehicles is based on many factors. Make sure your state permits you to use rentals before placing a passenger in a rental. Sara da Cruz, managing partner of Cruz Limousine in Montreal, Quebec, says operators must pay for special transportation permitting on each vehicle in Montreal. A vehicle found providing transportation for-hire without the permit would be impounded, leaving the passenger stranded. Using a local competitor is an option that eliminates the need for insurance arrangements on the extra car, and the need to staff the car and addresses other considerations as well. Da Cruz says she “handpicks only local operators with high professional standards and vehicle quality.” Using an affiliate pipeline is another option. If you are part of a network such as Carey or Music Express, you can ask them for assistance. Even if you are their affiliate in your service area, chances are they have a back-up provider. In many smaller towns, it is not uncommon for small operators to loan each other equipment. If you choose to do this, both companies should inform their insurance companies.

NO. 3: Human resources and training
If you add vehicles through rentals, you may find yourself short of chauffeurs to drive them. Woodruff maintains a list of “seasonal drivers” that drive only for large events. Some of them may go as long as 90 days without driving but they are always ready to go, Woodruff says. Making sure that everyone is on the same page while serving a large event is “capital to its success,” da Cruz says. When farming out work to assisting companies, da Cruz says “transportation sequence and special client needs are forwarded to affiliates with exact addresses, maps and all relative information for a successful event. When special rules apply, a detailed grid listing actions to take before and during the service is passed along to maximize the service quality and attention to detail.”

NO 4: Communications

When additional staff is brought in to drive, communications devices are not always available to cover the extra staff. Cell phone communications, texting and subtle integrated walkie-talkie applications on Smartphones are used by da Cruz while Woodruff uses extra Nextel devices. If they run out, cell phones are used as the primary form of communications. Operators with two-way radio systems often can get additional radios from their carriers for a daily rental rate. Another option is to use a company such as Bear Com (www.bearcom.com) that provides mobile command centers and rental radios that can be integrated into an existing system or set-up for temporary use. If communications are conducted with other affiliate chauffeurs, it is recommended that communications be done in “clear text,” meaning no codes are used to communicate. A code such as “POB” (passenger on board) may have a different meaning resulting in an error through miscommunication.

NO. 5: Insurance and licensing
Woodruff cautions to make sure any vehicle you are using is covered by insurance. Carol Bean, an independent agent representing Northland, says you should obtain an endorsement on your insurance policy called “hired auto.” Woodruff says he pays his insurance carrier, Northland, an extra premium each year to maintain the endorsement. Bean also recommends when using an affiliate to request the affiliate to have you added to its insurance policy as an “additional insured” under the policy. This affords you the same coverage as your affiliate carries. There is generally no fee for this certificate and most insurance companies can accomplish this in about an hour from the time ordered. Depending on your state, you may need to carry a copy of your operating authority or place special markings on the vehicle that identifies it as being used as a “for-hire” vehicle with an operating authority permit number. It is important to make sure that every vehicle under your control is insured and contains all the necessary paperwork required by your state to avoid disrupting passenger service or learning after an accident that the vehicle was not insured, Woodruff says.

NO 6: Fueling issues
Adding an additional vehicle into your fleet not operated by an affiliate can pose a problem for fueling. The vehicle will not have a fuel card and you must decide if the chauffeur will be given a temporary card or cash, pay out of pocket, present a receipt for reimbursement, or fuel at a predetermined location. Woodruff has an arrangement with a local service station that allows chauffeurs to sign for their purchases and turn in receipts with their daily paperwork. Some companies, including Majestic, maintain pre-made kits that contain insurance cards, license information, business cards, and other necessary items ready to place into rentals as they are put into service.

NO. 7: Billing and accounting issues
Because you are billing your client for the services rendered, it is important that your affiliate keeps detailed records of the time the vehicle was enroute to the pickup location, the time arrived at the pickup location, the time the passenger entered the vehicle, the time the passenger got out of the vehicle, and any additional time traveling home from a long-distance drop-off. In the event of a billing dispute, this issue may be critical for resolving. Do not assume an affiliate records this information, and be sure to specify you need it before the job commences. Make it clear that you must have the information about the trip within 24-hours of the job completion. This information is commonly known in the industry as “time and charges,” and includes a record of the time each status change took place and the final charges for the service.

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Related Topics: fleet management, How To, special events, vehicle leasing

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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