How To Step Up To Better Bus Operations

Tom Halligan
Posted on September 16, 2016

As operators enter the motorcoach business, or seek to increase bus market share, seasoned veterans can guide them on the basics of best practices, lessons learned, and new rules.

At the International LCT Show in Las Vegas on March 2, a panel of expert limousine operators who run motorcoaches taught attendees how to run and maintain buses, and market them to clients. In fact, a record 11 motorcoaches were displayed on the ILCT show floor, proving how manufacturers want to connect with growing operator interest.

Opportunities abound for professional, service-oriented motorcoach operations, the panel emphasized. “Years back, the guy who drove a motorcoach was dressed in jeans and a vest in a basic bus with cloth seats and he just sat there in his seat not offering any service at all,” said Gary Bauer, chairman and CEO of San Francisco-based Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, which runs 92 motorcoaches. “Today, the big difference for us is we have well-trained drivers in suits, leather interiors and amenities, and we provide professional transportation service for clients — that’s the big difference.

Motorcoach Passenger Trips

  • Students: 22%
  • Senior: 27%
  • All Other: 51%

Source: Motorcoach Census 2015 American Bus Association Foundation

Traditional limousine operators need to look beyond their clients to find more groups needing transportation, Bauer said. “Opportunities exist with travel tours and sightseeing tours, but also conventions, church groups, corporate shuttle services and schools transporting students and sports teams, especially at the collegiate level.”

Tom Holden, director of operations with Charlotte, N.C.-based Rose Chauffeured Transportation, said his company has seen a spike in destination management companies (DMCs) working with Rose to provide quality group transportation services.

“If you provide a quality product and service we have seen our business grow,” said Holden, who runs 20 motorcoaches. “The secret recipe is to hire bus ‘chauffeurs’ — not drivers — who specifically work in the bus part of your business and are properly trained, licensed and provide great service that keeps DMCs coming back.”

Experienced motorcoach operators Gary Bauer of Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in San Francisco; Tom Holden, director of operations at Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C.; and Bedford Wynne, vice president of Wynne Transportation in Dallas shared some insider tips for pursuing the motorcoach business.

Experienced motorcoach operators Gary Bauer of Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation in San Francisco; Tom Holden, director of operations at Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, N.C.; and Bedford Wynne, vice president of Wynne Transportation in Dallas shared some insider tips for pursuing the motorcoach business.

Bedford Wynne Jr., who oversees Dallas-based Wynne Transportation’s minibuses and 27 motorcoaches, said one of the big lessons learned when his company entered the motorcoach business was to focus on maintenance and operational costs. The company bought its first motorcoach in 2008 and soon saw its motorcoach share of company revenues grow to 30%. Today the business is 70%, with chauffeured vehicles at 30%.

“Downtime is not an option in the motorcoach business,” Wynne said. “There are not enough quality farm-out or sub-contractors who offer the same quality and service we do. We are lucky in that we are located a stone’s throw away from a service center, and when I go to shows, such as the LCT shows, I find part suppliers where I can save 20-30% — that’s huge.”

Percentage of Carriers
Providing Service Types

  • Commuter: 8%
  • Special 0perations: 13%
  • Scheduled service: 16%
  • Sightseeing: 20%
  • Airport: 24%
  • Packaged Tour: 40%

The panel advised new operators motorcoaches can run a million-plus miles generating revenue if well maintained, and can hold value as a trade-in for newer vehicles. All agreed to first buy a good used motorcoach to test the market.

“Get in the game and try it out,” Bauer said. “You can buy a quality used bus and learn the business and market that new service to your clients.” The panelists cautioned: Make sure you do your homework and buy a used bus from a reputable source. Attending industry shows and association meetings is an excellent way to ask fellow operators about the used bus business.

“We bought used buses and upgraded them when the economy crashed and started our motorcoach brand and went straight up from there,” Holden said. “You can find refurbished buses with new engines, transmissions and paint that look practically new for one-third the cost of a new bus. Get your feet wet first before you swim in the ocean buying new.”

Leasing is another way to sample the motorcoach business. Some busmakers offer short-term leases attractive to new operators, who then do not have to spend much money upfront on the vehicle. Operators can use the savings for marketing and good wages to hire and train professional drivers.

Further, know your costs. Bauer stressed operators need to get close to their bankers to make sure they get the best interest rates for such a large purchase. Knowing your fixed costs and yard costs will help you price your motorcoach business so you can build in the profit margin that works for your company and market, Holden said.

Regarding paying drivers, Wynne said he pays a flat rate and a per diem for drivers on overnight trips. “We’ll give drivers a credit card for incremental charges, port of entry fees, and other expenses,” he said. Bauer said it depends on the contract.

“Everybody is different. Some will charge an hourly rate for a day trip or a flat daily rate. Some may charge a flat rate and gratuity and others will charge a higher rate with no gratuity. It all depends on the market and the margins you want.”

2017 Electronic Logging Devices Mandate

Rose Chauffeured Transportation’s Tom Holden advised motorcoach operators will be required to use electronic logging devices (ELD) next year. The new rule is intended to help create a safer work environment for drivers, and make it easier and faster to accurately track, manage, and share records of duty status (RODS) data.

For carriers using AOBRDs (automatic onboard recording devices) before the rule compliance date of Dec. 18, 2017, the rule will replace AOBRDs with ELDs over a four-year period. An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time for easier, more accurate hours of service (HOS) recording.

The rule applies to most carriers and drivers who are required to maintain RODS. The ELD Rule:

  • Specifies who is covered by the rule and exceptions to it.
  • Provides for ELDS to be certified, registered, and listed on a FMCSA website.
  • Includes technical specs to ensure ELDs are standardized and compliant.
  • Includes a phased timeline to give drivers and carriers time to comply.
  • Includes provisions to help prevent data tampering and harassment of drivers.
  • Creates standard data displays and data transfer processes, making it easier to demonstrate compliance and faster to share RODS with safety officials.
  • Carriers and drivers subject to the rule must install and use ELDs by the appropriate deadline:
  • Carriers and drivers using paper logs or logging software must transition to ELDs no later than Dec. 18, 2017.
  • Carriers and drivers who use AOBRDS before the compliance date must transition to ELDs no later than Dec. 16, 2019.

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FDMA)

Related Topics: Bedford Wynne, bus regulations, California operators, Dallas operators, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, federal regulations, Gary Bauer, How To, ILCT 2016, industry education, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, North Carolina operators, Rose Chauffeured Transportation, San Francisco operators, Texas operators, Tom Holden, Wynne Transportation

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