January 2008

Innovative Operator Profile: Focusing on the Driver

by Metro staff

Spending 34 years in the motorcoach industry as an operator can give you some perspective; it gave Ft. Washington, Md.-based ProTran LLC’s Irving Harris the inside track on knowing what is most important.

“We provide an atmosphere that makes the drivers feel as if they are ambassadors of the company and not just drivers,” says Harris. “We treat them with the utmost respect, and in return, they are very loyal and respectful of the company, which means that they don’t want to leave.”

ProTran drivers wear ties 365 days a year and receive training on the “five keys to being a true professional,” which they must adhere to at all times. They also step off of the coach and greet each passenger with a friendly smile.

Harris handpicks his drivers, most of whom he’s known for more than 20 years and many of which have close to 30 years of industry experience.

“Having been a driver, I know what people want and appreciate,” explains Harris. “The first thing they look for usually is professionalism. When you take a trip somewhere and as a driver you get off the coach and you’re dressed a certain way, people notice that.”

Harris started the company in 2003 with his wife Edythe, who retired from her corporate job and serves as president and CEO. With his extensive knowledge, Harris trains the drivers on his coach of choice, the Setra S 417 from Daimler Buses North America, before simply throwing them the keys and sending them on their way. He also ensures that each operator knows all of the features of the coach and how to operate them, knowledge which is then handed down.

“After greeting passengers, our drivers always discuss the amenities of the coach with them before they get moving so that they are familiar and more comfortable with their travel experience,” says Harris.

Started as a charter service, ProTran now offers many prearranged group excursions, including trips to Nova Scotia and Alaska, as well as Underground Railroad and Black Heritage tours.

The operation also recently implemented an aggressive advertising campaign, complete with an integrated Website and a listing at YellowPages.com.

“We get a listing every month of the number of clicks we have through the Yellow Pages and they average about 200 or 300 a month,” explains Harris. “We’ve had people call from out of town, as well, who found us through the site.”

In the beginning of 2008, ProTran is expecting delivery of two new Setras, featuring new 2007 low-emission engines and ZF Astronic 12-speed transmissions, which Harris says will help cut down on fuel consumption. The S 417s will also be fitted with DriveCams for added protection.

The operation also has a stringent preventative maintenance program that includes taking the coaches to Daimler’s Greensboro, N.C., plant for thorough inspections. If something is even close to being an issue, Harris insists that it should be fixed right then and there to help prevent breakdowns that could potentially cost ProTran business.

“Once you get stranded on the side of the road a couple of times, you get a reputation, and it spreads,” he says. “Like anything built by man you are going to have problems, but what you’re doing by being proactive is cutting down on the likelihood of that happening.”

At a Glance

Motorcoaches: 3

Fleet mix: Daimler Buses North America Setra S 417

Employees: 2

Drivers: 7

Service area: U.S. and Canada

Services: Charter, tours, airport transfers, conventions and athletics

Annual mileage: 60,000 per bus

Year started: 2003

COO: Irving Harris

President: Edythe Harris


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