January 2011

Vandalia Bus Lines-Caseyville, Ill.

by Nicole Schlosser, Associate Editor

Vandalia takes advantage of a local sales tax incentive to use biodiesel fuel, which initially makes the fuel more expensive, but with sales tax abatement, they pay less in the long run.

Since 1975, when Leon and Judy Streif, CEO, purchased Vandalia Bus Lines Inc., which was named after the central southern Illinois town it was founded in, the company has been giving back through green practices and good jobs.

Vandalia was initially started in 1932 with a fleet of five buses and provided transportation between St. Louis and several southern Illinois communities. During the Depression, the carrier provided much-needed jobs and, later during World War II, military transportation to the area.

Leon Streif, an owner of multiple businesses, owned and operated Streif Bus Service, which had served the Lebanon (Ill.) School District since 1963. Leon had started a charter business with one school bus in 1959 and bought his first motorcoach in the late 1960s — a GMC 4104. Eventually, Leon acquired six more General Motors coaches and four new MCI-8s. The Streif family has since grown the fleet to a total of 53 local and over the road coaches and 102 staff members.

In the early years, Vandalia ran a charter service and a scheduled line run from St. Louis to Effingham, Ill. and operated school buses for the local community, as well as the surrounding metro area. The carrier now not only offers charter service, but also provides convention and meeting services and has partnered with Gray Line to offer a popular St. Louis tour to its customers.

Dennis Streif, vice president, attributes Vandalia's long-lasting success to its caliber of drivers and the amount of time and resources invested in keeping them. The operator only hires drivers with previous passenger experience, primarily drawing from the school bus industry, offers a quarterly driver bonus, and medical insurance to full time staff and drivers.  The company also provides a matching contribution on an IRA for each full-time employee and gives full time drivers one week of paid vacation after two years of service.

The day-to-day business is currently run by Leon Streif's children: Dale Streif, president; Dennis Streif, vice president; Roger Streif, vehicle maintenance; Lori Ditzler, accounting; and Melissa Kaemmerer, treasurer.

"The family members [involved] have a commitment as well as competitiveness between each other to excel and continuously raise the bar," Streif says.

Part of that commitment is to keeping the company's carbon footprint light. "Any positive change we can make to improving air quality, unnecessary waste and the overall environment we live in will hopefully preserve our natural resources. We must show by example and live our daily lives in preservation mode," Streif says. Vandalia does this by using an 11 percent mixture of biodiesel to power all of its motorcoaches, from late March through mid-November, before the cold weather sets in and makes using the fuel more difficult.

Illinois allows a sales tax incentive to use biodiesel, which initially makes the fuel more expensive, but with sales tax abatement, Vandalia ends up paying less in the long run. Use of this alternative fuel makes Vandalia's St. Louis historical tour, which can be taken from April through October, even greener.

"We run it every day, whether there's one person, 25 or 55 people on the vehicle," Streif says. Two versions of the tour are offered. The longer version gives guests the opportunity to go to St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch or the Anheuser-Busch Brewery.

Additionally, the operator is striving to create a paperless workplace, by sending customers confirmations, statements and invoices electronically, and also recycles aluminum and metal in the vehicle maintenance shop. The recycled paper ends up going to a good cause: Judy Streif coordinates with the local Humane Society to shred the recycled paper and use it for bedding for animals in shelters.

 


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