Recruiting, hiring, and retaining drivers continues to be the biggest challenge facing motorcoach operations today, according to 70% of respondents to METRO's Motorcoach Survey. As the issue continues to grow, the challenge is not only resulting in staffing issues, but is now beginning to have an impact on business, with many respondents saying they could in fact grow their operation if they had enough drivers to take on the increased work.
Outside of staffing drivers, 27% of this year’s respondents report that escalating costs is their second greatest challenge, followed by staying busy year-round (20%) and finding qualified maintenance personnel (16%). Interestingly, those rising costs are sometimes associated with increased efforts to recruit new drivers, with many operators saying they are paying more to market and advertise for their open positions, or even create or expand Human Resources divisions or implement a CDL training department.
To address issues with escalating costs, operators said they are looking for redundancies and other areas of their business that could possibly run leaner, while a handful reported that they plan on selling old equipment and replacing it with newer equipment to limit repair and breakdown costs.
To maintain business throughout the year, operators said they are concentrating on business opportunities during the off-peak season(s) and better diversification, while also looking at increased training programs and partnering with local trade schools to address shortages in the maintenance shop.
For the 2019 version of METRO’s survey, the traditional Top 50 format has been tweaked to expand the number of respondents, to enhance our overview of the industry. Fleets included this year ranged from operations with as many as 611 motorcoaches to as little as two, while also capturing operations that perform a broader range of services.
Business at a glance
■ Overall, 84% of operators around the U.S. and parts of Canada reported that business was either up or even in 2018, compared to the year previous.
When asked what actions they took to increase business, operators reported a number of strategies, including focusing on expanding some of the services they are already strong in, as well as looking at more business diversification. On that note, some operators reported that they have expanded their business by partnering with the European-based FlixBus operation, which launched in the Southwest U.S. in May with 27 locations, with plans to expand to New York City and Texas in 2019.
First launching in Germany in 2013, FlixBus manages the technology, ticketing, customer service, network planning, marketing, and sales, while its local SME partners are responsible for the daily operation of buses. As of November, FlixBus had 12 SME bus partners servicing 60 destinations.
Additional ways operators expanded business in 2018, included adding new routes, selling single seats on almost full trips, and increasing advertising.
Finally, when asked if they are providing additional training for drivers outside of new hire and refresher courses, 56% of operators responded that they were, with customer service being the hottest topic, followed by increased safety, ADA, and federal regulatory compliance training.
To view the survey as it appears in the January 2019 issue of METRO Magazine, click here.
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