’s 2012 Top 50 Motorcoach operators survey, we expanded our reach and received input from a total of 106 carriers. Therefore, our list is shaken up, somewhat. American Coach Lines of Orlando, AFC Transportation and Colonial Trailways are a few of the handful of companies that are new to the list this year.
This time around, we also added ques-tions about marketing segments, seat belts and refurbishment, to get a better-rounded snapshot of the industry.
Fleet sizes among the top respondents were larger in general this year. FirstGroup America-Greyhound Lines Inc. and Coach USA, as usual, took the first and second spots, respectively. Dallas-based Horizon Coach Lines moved up to the third spot, from the eighth position it held last year, after purchasing about 900 coaches from the now bankrupt Coach America in September.
New Britain, Conn.’s DATTCO moved up four spaces, to grab the number 10 spot, and Silverado Stages, based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., broke into the top 20, jumping from number 21 last year to 18 this year.
A total of 22,276 vehicles are represented among the Top 50 operators in this survey. Among all respondents, the vehicle total is 23,621.
The average fleet size among the 50 largest operators, not counting FirstGroup and Coach USA, is 143. The median fleet size is 82.
Forty-three of the Top 50 operators, or 86%, have plans to buy more vehicles this year, the same as last year. Slightly more than three-quarters of operators made estimates on their buying plans for 2013, with the remaining quarter having firm plans in place. The most popular vehicle brands selected were Motor Coach Industries (29%), Prevost (20%) and Van Hool (16%).
Business in 2012 was up for more than three-quarters of the Top 50 motorcoach operators and for 64% of all respondents. On average, for the Top 50, the increase was 12%. Business was down for only 3% of operators, and for nearly 20%, it stayed the same.
To increase business, two-thirds of carriers obtained government contracts, 57% took on private company contracts, and about one-half partnered with other coach operators and secured school contracts. Twelve percent diversified into limousine or paratransit service.
Actions taken to offset costs included rate increases by nearly three quarters of operators, fuel surcharges (66%), staff downsizing (15%), reductions in services (8%), and reduced idling and advance fuel purchases (4% each).
Once again, the most favored marketing method was word of mouth at 64%. The Internet trailed this year among our Top 50, selected by only 20%, down by more than 10% from last year. Social media, in particular, was favored by nearly 10%. Additional methods cited were client referrals, direct sales (2% each) and trade shows (1%). While about 3% of all respondents said they used radio, print and TV ads, none of our Top 50 used those marketing methods, and no operators reported using the Yellow Pages.
One new survey question addressed marketing segments operators made a special effort to reach. Eighty percent chose universities; about one-half selected seniors, sports teams, and church and religious groups; and about one-third selected commuters.