February 2011

UMA Expo Attendees Look to 'Refocus. Redefine. Reinvent.' Business

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

A popular session at this year's UMA Expo was entitled "Young Guns," which featured five next generation motorcoach operators.

The theme for the United Motorcoach Association's (UMA) Motorcoach Expo 2012 - Refocus. Redefine. Reinvent. — couldn't have been more on point, with many operators attending this year's show in Tampa, Fla., Jan. 19 to 23, looking for ways to pick up business and learning the latest federal regulations that will impact their operations in the near future.

As the featured speaker during the show's annual "Legislative and Regulatory Update," Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro touched on all the changes in the pipeline that motorcoach operators will be facing, including the new Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) regulations.

Rolled out in December 2010, CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve bus and large truck safety and, ultimately, reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities related to commercial motor vehicles. The new CSA operational model has three major components: Measurement, Evaluation and Intervention, enabling the FMCSA and its state partners to contact a larger number of carriers earlier in order to address safety problems before crashes occur.

"The program is like preventive medicine in a sense," Ferro explained to the crowd, adding that the idea of the program is to raise the bar to enter the motorcoach business, maintain high standards to stay in business and provide tools to get high risk operators off the road.

Ferro told the crowd that central to CSA will be the Safety Measurement System, which uses a motor carrier's data from roadside inspections, including safety based violations, state-reported crashes, and the Federal Motor Carrier Census to quantify performance in Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs).

Measurements of the seven BASICs categories will help place carriers in a safety event group based on a percentile score, so prospective customers can view the operator's score and operators can view a potential driver's record.

The FMCSA's Anne Ferro touched on all the changes in the pipeline that motorcoach operators will be facing in the next year or so.

During her speech, Ferro also discussed how committed Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the administration is to eliminating distracted driving and improving transportation infrastructure, upcoming regulations regarding seat belts on motorcoaches and the pending Federal surface transportation authorization bill.

Following Ferro's speech, UMA's Chairman, Legislative and Regulatory Committee, Bill Allen, further discussed issues facing motorcoach operators, including attempts on Capitol Hill to weaken or outright destroy the Charter Bus Rule and new Commercial Driver License tests and Learner's Permit rules. Also later in the day, FMCSA officials went more in-depth on CSA and BASICs during the "CSA 2010 - Update and Other FMCSA Issues" session.

Young Guns

With seasoned motorcoach operators looking for ways to improve their businesses, many of their junior operators are looking to the future and finding ways to reach a wider audience, while also learning from their predecessors' examples, to breathe new life into the industry. Such was the message during the popular "Young Guns" session, which featured five under-35 operators discussing some of the obstacles they face and how they plan to lead the motorcoach industry into the future.

"You have to know your limitations and how to maneuver during the busy times," said Mike Costa of Boston's A Yankee Line of his experience in the industry.

"Promote, promote, promote," added Joe Thielen of Thielen Coaches in Redwood Falls, Minn., about how he feels it is best to draw attention to both his operation and the industry as a whole. The group also discussed the growing presence of their companies on the Web, particularly on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Later during the conference, approximately 30 "Young Guns" got together to discuss creating a sort of micro-group within the larger association.

"The idea behind it is to get the young people of the motorcoach industry together and form some sort of club within UMA that not only encourages membership but, at the same time, promotes young people in the industry," explained Ray Land of Fabulous Coaches in Branford, Fla., later on the show floor with a newfound Young Gun in tow.


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