Sandy Miller sees a future in providing a level of chauffeured service that TNCs cannot.
If you’ve ever seen the signature swoosh on the side of one of Ryan’s Express Transportation buses, you’re likely to be impressed with the size and appearance of the vehicle. Ryan’s Express runs a tight ship when it comes to the looks of its buses, and it didn’t go unnoticed by our own team here at LCT, when we started seeing them routinely pass by our home office in Torrance, Calif.
It turns out that Ryan’s Express has one of its main headquarters right down the street from the LCT offices, which made a visit and tour both easy and desirable. Ryan’s Express sits on an expansive lot that provides plenty of room to house and service 54 buses and vehicles, more than one third of its 150 vehicle fleet, also based in San Diego, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Phoenix.
Although primarily a charter bus company, Ryan’s Express also has sedans, shuttles, SUVs and limos. The Torrance location holds 15 livery vehicles, used frequently for clients. The company was founded in 1999 by Los Angeles operator Mike Haggerty, who sold his Stardust Limousine company in 1998 to launch Ryan’s Express. After growing it to 180 vehicles, he sold it in mid-2011 to the private equity firm, Century Park Capital Partners, and then started CH Bus Sales.
A Bus For Every Job
The Ryan’s Express fleet runs the gamut of bus manufacturers, requiring the maintenance crew to be well versed in all the different kinds of brands, makes and models, which include Prevost, MCI, Temsa and Van Hool, as well as a number of school buses. President John Busskohl jokes that he wishes he had the entire fleet streamlined to a single brand, but that for now the mix is just part of the job.
The lot accommodates huge hangars that enable Ryan’s Express to be one of the few motorcoach companies to house its buses indoors, which saves a lot of money on washing and weather corrosion.
The highlight of the yard is a brand new fully enclosed paint shed, where even the biggest buses can be driven inside so the painter can perfect the trademark swoosh and sharpen up the exterior look with a fresh coat. The facility is open to outside work, so other bus companies can use their facilities for maintenance and paint work, Busskohl says.
Ryan’s Express prides itself on a commitment to details, a point Busskohl reiterated when explaining how continuity and communication are vital to running a charter bus service.
“We try to set a tone of high integrity and not cut any corners,” he says, “and all of our staff has been instructed to be very open and communicative with the front line. We want to make sure that everyone on the team is involved and pulling the boat in the same direction.”
Motorcoach In His Blood
Busskohl is relatively new to Ryan’s Express, having come on to the team as president in February 2013. But he is no stranger to the charter bus business. “I’ve been in the bus business pretty much my whole life,” he says, “and this is a great opportunity for me to get back to the roots of the business I grew up in.”
The Busskohl family originally started with Arrow Stage Lines out of the Midwest, run by John’s father. When John joined the family business, he ran the Phoenix location, and soon the company went public with five other companies to form Coach USA in 1996.
Busskohl then made a move to Los Angeles to work for Tech Trans for four years, and although he enjoyed the experience of working in the public transit sector, his true passion lies in the private charter business. “It’s another great challenge,” says Busskohl of the new position, “I’m working with a great group of people and we’re in five locations, so we’ve been dedicated to making sure we get everyone on the same page and working together.”
Keeping A Cohesive Team
Chris Sanchez, the vice president of operations at Ryan’s Express, has been with the company since 2006. Along with making sure that all of the buses are in working order and well-maintained, he also oversees the operations for the other four locations. He travels often to work with each of the teams.
Sanchez got his start in the transportation industry under a family business as well, working for his family’s trucking company after college. He moved his way up through Ryan’s Express to his current position, and says through it all the employees of the company have been the glue to hold it together.
“The thing I like most about this company is the people,” he says. “We have a lot of employees in each of our locations, and they are all really passionate about the business, and it’s hard to find people like that. Our company has been through a lot of changes these last three years, and it’s the employees that have kept it together.”
Ryan’s Express does a lot of work with employee shuttle contracts, road tours, and also motorcoach and bus duty for conventions, school districts, universities and military moves. “We have three dedicated salespeople who are continually searching for business and marketing for us,” Busskohl says. “And we subscribe to a lot of RFP websites, but we get a lot of business through word of mouth because of the brand’s great reputation.”
Farming in and out is a common practice, but with having locations relatively near each other, the company also can call in the vast fleet to cover many large events in-house. As Sanchez explains, “For example there’s a NASCAR event that happens in Las Vegas every year in March. It’s a big event and we bring almost our entire fleet to Las Vegas for that weekend.”
Making A Difference To Client Experience
Busskohl said he plans to integrate new software programs Distinctive Systems Coach Manager and Vehicle Maintenance System into the operations, as well as continue to improve upon company communication.
“We’ve instituted an internal newsletter,” he says, “and I know that doesn’t sound like much but with us being in five locations, communication can be tough. You have guys out driving and what not. But everyone has been very appreciative.”
As Sanchez walked around the yard one recent morning, he explained how one of the biggest challenges for operations is a recent uptick in last-minute bookings. “Forecasting ahead is probably the biggest difficulty. In the past we had more people planning their vacations out ahead of time, but now it’s trending toward last-minute bookings, which makes it hard to schedule equipment and make sure we have the vehicles. We have a lot of in-house accounts with contracts we have to take care of, so last minute bookings can make things more difficult.”
But one advantage for Ryan’s Express is that with its locations spread through the southwest, many of the sightseeing charter tours run through all the locations, enabling the buses to stop in a “backyard” for service and washing, making the experience that much better for customers.
“I like to think of Ryan’s Express as an ambassador to the West. We get people from all over the world and different parts of the U.S. And I enjoy the fact that with our great drivers and vehicles, we can play a big part in someone’s enjoyment.”
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