Here's how to make sure you don't let the sun interfere with safe fleet driving.
Seasoned bus and motorcoach operators with many miles under their belts understand adding bigger vehicles to a limousine fleet can be challenging for first timers.
“There were unique requirements to overcome when we started out with one bus,” said David Glazier, president of Fleet Transportation in Alexandria, Va. “Things like, ‘Do I have room to park it? How do I wash it? How do I service it? How do I deal with onboard restrooms and wheelchair lifts?’ All of these things you don’t deal with in the sedan business. You have to understand what you are getting into and the scope of running buses and motorcoaches.”
Glazier was part of a panel discussion, “Mastering the Day-to-Day Challenges of the Bus Industry,” held March 14 during the International LCT Show in Las Vegas. Moderated by Tom Holden, general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Charlotte, N.C., the other panelists were Jeff Greene, president of Greene Worldwide Transportation of Atlanta, and Charlie Murray, vice president and COO of Total Luxury Limousine in St. Paul, Minn.
The panel offered attendees an array of practical tips, advice, and lessons learned for operators considering the motorcoach business, but also best practices for experienced operators. Maintenance is central to running a successful large-fleet operation on many fronts.
You quickly pick up simple practices, such as not taking a motorcoach to the same place you take your sedans for an oil change, as well as bigger issues like ensuring you have spare parts on hand and backup plans when a motorcoach breaks down on the road, Glazier said.
“It’s important to have a good diesel mechanic, and I’m also lucky to have an electrical technician to fix problems, but making sure you have spare parts in stock — and also on the bus — is critical to keep the buses running properly, and if there is a breakdown on the road, you’re able to make the repair quickly so as not to risk stranding passengers and losing money,” Greene added.
Murray said he’ll stock windshields as a way to quickly change damaged glass to keep a bus in service. “Staying on top of maintenance and doing what the manual recommends is the best way to catch things early.” He recommended operators need to focus on preventative maintenance to keep buses running and repair costs down.
“We’ll stock spare filters, light bulbs, belts, and hoses on buses and train drivers how to make the repairs and supply the tools if they can do it, or if road service is needed, we have the parts on board,” Murray advises.
Green emphasized Murray’s point. “You’re paying $450,000-plus for a bus, so you have to take care of it. You need to know things like fuel filters can get clogged on dirty roads, or bad fuel can put a bus down, and you need to know the companies that can tow a bus — because not all can — and negotiate with them rather than wait till the last minute when an incident happens.”
Plan B, C, And D
To succeed in the bus business, you must have contingency plans when a bus breaks down on the road or is put out of service and you need to fulfill a booking, Glazier stressed.
“You get an order for 40 people and it all sounds great, then BAM! The bus goes down. In the bus business we like to say we’re all friends because you’ll need to be able to call someone up who can help you out. It’s important to find like-minded operators you can trust who will drop what they’re doing to help you out because that allows you to grow your business because you can deliver the service no matter what happens.”
When he gets a call that a bus is broken down, “first you cry then you go into action,” Greene said. “It’s important to have contingency plans, especially when you are running through multiple states and destinations. We call ahead to make sure we have provisions in those locations in case something happens and their response time … in this industry fellow members have empathy for others when something goes wrong as we tend to help each other.”
Added Holden, “As soon as that phone rings, you need to put Plan B in motion, and if that doesn’t work, then you need a Plan C and D. A breakdown will happen and it will affect your bottom line because you’ll have to hire another company to complete the job and that will cost you more money. However, if you get enough work over the course of a year, that can make up for the times the buses go down.”
On long trips, Murray talks to his insurance company for recommendations on operators who can be trusted to pitch in if there is an incident.
Holden reiterated the panel’s emphasis on paying strict attention to preventative maintenance as a way to keep buses on the road. New operators should make sure drivers inspect the buses before bookings, which are also mandated by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, “because that can save you a lot of time and money,” Greene added.
All panelists agreed taking the time to understand the nuances of how buses operate and sticking to the service manual will pay off in lowering downtime and boosting profits. Knowing if your bus is equipped with heater/air control valves or if the system is automatic can reduce the chances of an incident, Glazier said.
“Say the heater valve is turned off and it’s too cold, or the cold valve is off and the temperature spikes to 80 degrees, you need to know how to solve that if passengers are complaining about the cabin temperature. You have to know your vehicles backward and forward.”
Take Care of the Wrench
All panelists concurred that finding and keeping good mechanics is the best way to prevent breakdowns. Holden said industry hourly rates can range from $18 to $28 an hour plus benefits. Green said he pays mechanics the market rate of about $22.50 an hour in Atlanta, but also pays benefits and 100% of health insurance.
You want to do what you can to keep them because once a mechanic understands your buses, you don’t want to lose that knowledge. Sending mechanics for training pays off, he said. “I sent our mechanic to the Van Hool schools in Orlando for a week and when he came back, he said, ‘Wow! I learned so much’ and then he shares that knowledge with everybody else and that really pays off.”
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