Management & Operations

Northeast's harsh winter chills coach operators

Posted on February 1, 2004

Snow and extreme cold, combined with inaccurate weather forecasts, have taken a toll on coach operators in the Northeast. Erroneous weather forecasts create the greatest challenge, said Mark Waterhouse, president of Classic Tours in Lakewood, N.J. He said nearly 50% of cancellations by customers can be attributed to inaccurate weather warnings. “We’ve had many trips canceled that didn’t have to be,” said Waterhouse. “People in New England think we’re a joke when there’s no snow and we’re not operating.” J.T. Bus Lines in North Adams, Mass., has not had many cancellations, but has experienced a decrease in the number of trips being booked, according to Jean Kurpiel, treasurer. “People just want to stay home when it is so cold,” Kurpiel said. “The snow has been about the same [as in past years], but it is much colder and that has affected business.” Premier Coach Co. in Colchester, Vt., is used to prolonged periods of cold and snow, but the timing of the snow created hardships this winter. “We got two large snowfalls in a 10-day period prior to the Christmas holidays,” said Bob Hopwood, general manager. “They both fell on weekends and we don’t expect that kind of snow in early December.” Hopwood said those storms resulted in $20,000 worth of cancellations. The company guarantees all trips unless the state closes the roads, but customers are much more likely to back out. Cancellations due to adverse weather have no penalty, a policy Hopwood said customers appreciate and reward. “We recognize that everyone reacts to weather differently, and we respect those who choose not to travel,” said Hopwood. “Usually the customer is anxious to reschedule the trip with us.” An awareness of how the vehicles operate in cold, snow and ice is necessary to operate safely in these conditions, said Hopwood. He said operators from areas with higher temperatures face unexpected problems that can easily be avoided with proper maintenance. Diesel fuel begins to gel as temperatures fall, but including a fuel additive eliminates the problem. Keeping a vehicle plugged in or running when not in use can be expensive and operators should know when this is needed. Hopwood said his vehicles are fine outside unless the temperature drops below minus 20. “We keep the equipment inside whenever possible, but if this can’t be done there are measures that are taken to keep everything running safely.” Jack Clark of Dufour Escorted Tours in Hinsdale, Mass., is holding on to the promise of better business in the spring. Tours to Florida in March and April are quickly being booked, he said. — Kristen Force

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