The motorcoach industry is in a stronger position today than a year ago. Equipment values are beginning to stabilize, as are insurance premiums, said United Motorcoach Association (UMA) President Victor Parra. “We need to capitalize on this,” he told attendees.
Parra’s remarks opened the conference portion of the 21st annual UMA Expo in Las Vegas Feb. 22 to 26. The state of the industry panel moderated by Parra included discussion of changes and challenges in the industry since Sept. 11, 2001.
According to panelist Steven Haddad, president of Carl R. Bieber Tourways in Kutztown, Pa., the industry is its own worst enemy by not creating a rate structure that is indicative of the value of its equipment. “We should let our service speak for the rate,” he said.
Jeff Polzien, president of Red Carpet Charters in Tulsa, Okla., agreed. “We’ve raised rates overall, and we’ve lost some customers because of it,” he said. “But you are not going to get the price unless you ask for it.”
To help strengthen business, operators such as Brian Scott, vice president of Escot Bus Lines in Tampa, Fla., are looking to diversify as well as take advantage of the availability of used equipment. “We are getting a faster return on our investment,” Scott said.
Craig Smith of Pennsylvania-based Martz Group said it was necessary to restructure the company by selling off certain locations and focusing on sales. “It was very difficult to do,” Smith said, “but we needed to become smaller and leaner.”
Deborah Hersman, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), reviewed motorcoach accident investigations and recommendations. Some investigations showed the drivers were medically unfit to drive, which prompted the NTSB to recommend the establishment of a medical review board and revision of medical standards for operators.
Highlights on the show floor included several new product unveilings, including Setra’s S 417 coaches outfitted with new options. Its TopSky models feature a double-glazed, tinted glass roof running the length of the aisle, giving passengers an enhanced viewing experience. “This allows operators, especially those offering charter service into big cities, to differentiate themselves,” said Pat Scully, chief commercial officer of DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses N.A.
Other show floor unveilings included ABC Companies’ new M1000 mid-size coach equipped with a Cat¨ C7 engine, which integrates Caterpillar ACERT¨ technology. The C7 is designed to reduce emissions at the point of combustion. ABC also touted the launch of its new predictive maintenance program, which integrates multiple fleet services into one shop visit to reduce equipment downtime.
In addition to showcasing two of its updated models, the D4005 and E4500 LX, Motor Coach Industries got into the Vegas spirit by hosting the wedding of Parkinson Coach (Brampton, Ohio) owner Jamie Murray to Lynn Hewitt on opening day of the expo. The custom-modified E4500 LX features a conventional seating area and lounge, configured for 42 passengers. Other enhancements include six flat-screen LCD monitors, with optional satellite radio and TV.
Prevost Car Inc., also on the show floor, presented its H-Series coaches featuring its new advanced, user-friendly multiplexing technology, which uses self-programming interchangeable modules. The new system uses one-third less wiring, splices and terminals.
During the UMA’s 6th Annual Vision Awards ceremony, Frank Henry of Martz Group and Haddad of Carl R. Bieber Tourways shared the honor of winning UMA’s Vision Award. Dave Bolen of New World Tours in Bristow, Va., received METRO’s Operator of the Year award.