Operations

Handling The Seat Belt Debacle And Other Motorcoach Matters

Lexi Tucker
Posted on September 6, 2018

Jason Sharenow, president of Passaic Valley Coaches, takes safety seriously and wants other operators getting into the bus business to understand the details involved in running motorcoaches the right way.
Jason Sharenow, president of Passaic Valley Coaches, takes safety seriously and wants other operators getting into the bus business to understand the details involved in running motorcoaches the right way.
CHATHAM, N.J. — It’s amazing Jason Sharenow finds time in a day to sleep. As the COO of Broadway Elite Chauffeured Services Worldwide, president of Passaic Valley Coaches (PVC), president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey (LANJ), and a volunteer EMT and police officer, he’s got his hands rather full.

He recently found the time to speak with LCT about what he’s learned while transitioning from traditional luxury transportation vehicles to motorcoaches, and the challenges that come along with it. He serves as a good example of how black vehicle operators can make the big leap aboard the bus sector.

Overcoming The Seatbelt Crisis

Through PVC, Sharenow operates 12 motorcoaches: 11 Prevost and one Temsa. Of the 12, eight have seatbelts…and two more will be retrofitted as well due to the incredibly high demand.

“Demand for buses with seatbelts is enormous. The school districts are driving it, and more boards of education are passing resolutions that mandate seatbelts in coaches due to the recent school bus accidents,” he says.

Sharenow retrofitted two of his coaches with seatbelts in 2017, which ran him about $12,000 per coach. Since the other two coaches he owns are slightly older, it wouldn’t be worth the costs. “The life expectancy of a motorcoach runs from about 18 to 20 years. There’s plenty of older metal out on the road, but it’d cost me $70,000 or $80,000 to retrofit the other two I have. The ones I retrofitted last year only cost me three days of down time; if I were to do the others, it’d take roughly three to four weeks,” he explains.

Buses are always ready to go.
Buses are always ready to go.
Despite this demand, he refuses to charge more for his buses with seatbelts. “I look at it as taking advantage of the situation. People are requesting a safety item; it’d be one thing if they were looking for Wi-Fi, TVs on every headrest, or another premium amenity,” he says.

However, he does point out that having seatbelts may actually pose more risk. The worst thing that can happen to a bus isn’t a crash, but a fire. “Tell me how you’re going to unbuckle 50 second graders and get them out of a burning coach fast enough to make sure they’re all safe.” Most children that young aren’t able to belt themselves properly, or have them adjusted correctly for the size of their bodies.

“A three-point seatbelt is designed for adults rather than small children. While a high schooler would be OK, an elementary school student wouldn’t. It actually becomes a safety hazard in itself,” he says. Motorcoaches are created with safety in mind, and the seats are designed for impact absorption. For generations coaches have not had belts in them, but starting in November 2016, newly manufactured buses are required to be equipped with three-point seatbelts for each driver and passenger seat.

Making An Educated Decision

Sharenow and his partners Brian and Gary Wecksler, along with his cousin Andy Steinfeld, broke into the bus side of luxury ground transportation because they were looking to diversify business.

“When we heard PVC was for sale, we thought it’d be a natural fit for us. We were already farming out business to them, and knew they were a trusted company with a rich history.” The now 52-year-old company has proved to be a great purchase for him, especially as they are Prevost’s oldest running and most loyal customer.

One of his challenges in this new sector is teaching bus drivers how to act more like chauffeurs. “There’s certainly a different mentality. We want to change that paradigm and guide them to create a top-notch customer service experience for clients,” he says.

A big, beautiful PVC bus.
A big, beautiful PVC bus.
While training has helped, it doesn’t hurt that his chauffeurs now make more money. “It’s a combination of seeing the fruits of their labor paying off with the different types of work we’ve been able to go after that’s higher paying. You can see we are bringing more of the limo tier of work into our coach business.”

To do this, he revamped the company’s website, and runs PVC as a separate business. “Marketing a motorcoach operation online is a lot easier than a limo company. Most of the traditional motorcoach companies are stuck in the tech dark ages. We are very lucky to have people like Bill Faeth, Pat Charla, and Arthur Messina who’ve embraced technology and helped limo operators develop a strong web presence.”

While it’s a great way to diversify your company from your current offerings, it is not a business to be taken lightly or for granted, Sharenow warns. “There’s more to owning a motorcoach operation than just buying the buses. Anyone can go out and purchase one, but can you run it legally, efficiently, and profitably?”

You should not do anything before you ready a training program, set up safety practices, and prepare for electronic logging, drug testing, and all the other nuances that come into play. “The US DOT is not an authority to mess with. If they find you in violation, you’ll be put out of service and that bus will not be making the money it needs to make it a financially good decision.”   

What’s The Value Of Seatbelts?

“In justification of the new seat belt law, the feds named the high occupancy rate of the coaches, the speed at which they travel, and occupant ejections in rollover accidents. While the number of fatalities is relatively small, the statistics made it obvious most deaths during rollover accidents occurred because of ejection from the coach. Seat belts would reduce passenger ejections.

While two-point seat belts have several negative features, three-point seat belts are limited in positive features. Experts will point out there are circumstances where three-point seat belts are more negative than positive. These would include evacuating a coach because of a fire or an oncoming train. Seat belts, and even three-point seat belts, may not add much safety in the event of a frontal or rear collision. Moreover, it is repeatedly pointed out seatbelts are of no value at all unless they are buckled.”

Source: BusesOnline article “An Interesting Read About Motorcoach Seat Belts” (8/14/14)

From The Desk Of The US DOT

“The final rule, which amends Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208, applies to new over-the-road buses and to other types of new buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 11,793 kilograms (26,000 pounds), except transit buses and school buses. Beginning in November 2016, newly manufactured buses will be required to be equipped with lap and shoulder belts for each driver and passenger seat.”

Source: NHTSA Announces Final Rule Requiring Seat Belts on Motorcoaches (11/20/13)

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Related Topics: buses, customer service, motorcoach operators, motorcoaches, New Jersey operators, seat belts

Lexi Tucker Associate Editor
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