July 2012

Motorcoach Operator Q&A: Contending with Change

by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor

Coming out of the recession, motorcoach carriers have had to adapt to changes in the way customers spend, seek bids and travel; more complicated vehicles; tighter competition and more scrutiny due to rising safety concerns. We asked a handful of motorcoach operators — Jared Stancil, executive VP, Anchor Trailways in Nashville, Tenn.; Gary Krapf, president of Krapf Coaches in West Chester, Pa.; Marie Williams, office manager for Spirit Tours in Chicago; and Gene Wright II, GM, B&W Charters in Kalamazoo, Mich. — for their thoughts on various aspects of the industry, from a proposed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rule to changes in their customers and quotes to conversion ratios to the biggest challenges facing them today.

What do you think of the new NHTSA proposed rule for electronic stability control systems to be required on all buses?

Stancil: From what I saw of the information that [NHTSA] put out, they believe that over 50% of rollovers can be avoided. That’s a pretty staggering amount, especially when you consider that the technology’s already in place. It seems like it’s a good fit. The technology’s already there and it seems like it would make a significant difference. I would welcome that. Put it in place and let’s start saving lives, hopefully.

Wright II: I believe anything that increases passenger safety is a good thing. I just want it [to be] vetted properly and make sure there are some provisions made for older equipment. I think any mandate should come with funding assistance if it includes coaches made prior to the rule.

Williams: I think about [needing] more money, to facilitate that type of equipment on your bus. I don’t know whether old coaches would be a better bet or whether you would have to invest in a new coach to have that. Any time things change like that, there’s more money involved to take care of those particular requirements.

Are you including social media in your marketing plan? If so, have you found it to be as beneficial as or more so than other methods?

Stancil: Yes. We have developed a social media marketing plan and invested in certain things such as customized Facebook tabs, and it has been very beneficial. We’re able to give specific messages to very targeted customers. It’s helped us build our relationships. We’re able to promote our clients’ events and talk about their trips. It’s been really helpful for us to keep a dialogue going with them. We really want to show we’re more than just a bus company. We can show our personality, that their trip is important to us. We can talk about their trip before they take it and while they’re on it. It’s been very beneficial, and we are investing heavily in more technology and apps.

Krapf: Yes. I make sure I have someone on staff that is interacting on some level with social media. I do think it has helped to bring some attention to the services we provide. You can see certain levels of inquiries that are generated. Beyond pure social media it’s obvious the amount of Internet quoting and emails has increased tremendously in the last couple years.

Wright II: It’s important for any company to have a social media presence. The degree of involvement is tied to the area you operate in. If you’re hauling a lot of college students or line runs, then it’s probably going to benefit your business quite a bit. It will play a bigger role in subsequent years.

Williams: We’re not doing Twitter or Facebook to obtain customers. Some people have the computer equipment and some don’t. I do see it as a way to branch out. We send thank you [notes] to our customers. It’s nice to get something in the mail that isn’t a bill.

It was revealed recently that a bus driver in a crash in March of last year had his driver’s license suspended 18 times and was fired from two previous transportation jobs. Do you see vetting for suitable bus drivers as an issue in the industry?

Stancil: I don’t think it’s a vetting issue. I think that recently what you’ve seen is several examples of rogue carriers that just have a complete disregard for passenger safety and federal laws and who are just dangerous. We just have access to so much information now including the pre-screening program and CSA data. We can get any information about anybody because of technology. I think it’s more an enforcement issue, making sure that these rogue operators are shut down.

Williams: I would think that something like that, where there were fatalities, would [prompt] some changes. It’s really all about safety, and having drivers who are well-rested before they go out on the road. Maybe in this industry we need to have more or better training for drivers.

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