January 2006

Innovative Operator Profile: Showing Off the Windy City

by Metro staff

For nearly 100 years, the Chicago Sightseeing Co. has moved people through the Windy City for sightseeing, commuting and charter transportation purposes. The parent company currently owns and operates five smaller businesses — American Sightseeing, Gray Line of Chicago, Prairie Trailways, Chicago’s Original Trolley Lines and the O’Hare Express.

These companies operate a number of important transportation services, in some cases running 24 hours a day. For example, in recent years Chicago Sightseeing has become the official carrier of the White House when the President comes to Chicago. Beyond that, the company also utilizes its resources to support organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation by providing transportation for the families and friends of terminally ill children.

The system utilizes luxury motorcoaches manufactured by MCI, a fleet of trolleys and three upper-deck buses manufactured by Roman Chariot. “This diversified group of vehicles allows us to cover a wide range of business types while not losing sight of the company’s origin,” says Chris Ferrone, vice president of engineering.

During his time spent with the company, Ferrone has attempted to advance the safety, mechanical understanding and the incorporation of new products and procedures for the motorcoach industry. “During this period of time, our buses have been widely used as a test platform for such projects as an initial trial usage of biodiesel and retro-reflective tape used for conspicuousness,” he says. “Additionally, we have developed a life extension plan for Detroit Diesel Series 92 engines, implemented refrigerant retrofits and tested the S-1 Pedestrian Guard for transit buses and the Zonar electronic pre-trip inspection system.”

Chicago Sightseeing also has a close affiliation with a consulting firm called Americoach Systems, which provides mechanical analysis and transportation technology to the industry. In the past, Americoach has developed an introduction program for low-sulfur diesel fuel, repair programs for extreme mileage vehicles, vehicle remanufacturing guidelines, prevention/repair methods for panel corrosion and a lecture on how to prevent and understand motorcoach fires. Chicago Sightseeing has taken advantage of all of these programs.

Ferrone credits much of the technical successes developed in his garage to having a staff of experienced and skilled mechanics. “Their skills and understanding of the business give me the ability to periodically work on other engineering issues which benefit our firm and the industry long term.”

Ferrone further attributes some of the company’s overall success to the organizations of which it is a member. Gray Line, Trailways and the American Bus Association all contribute some form of synergy, he says. “Having national groups you can reach out to enables us to broaden our business radius,” Ferrone adds.

Chicago Sightseeing, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in June of 2007, has been a family-run business since Henry Ferrone purchased the stock in 1919. Through it all, the Ferrone philosophy has been cut and dried. “We repair buses and advance technology, but we always keep in mind that it’s the passengers who pay the bills.”   

At a Glance

Motorcoaches: 23

Fleet mix: 10 MCIs, 10 trolleys, 3 upper-deck coaches

Employees: 45

Drivers: 30

Year started: 1907

Service area: Chicago and the Midwest

Services offered: Scheduled service, charter, tour

Average annual mileage: 750,000 to 900,000

VP of engineering: Chris Ferrone (pictured)


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