San Antonio played host to this year’s United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Expo, which also saw new UMA President/CEO Stacy Tetschner preside over the event for the first time. “We’re growing and we’re in a great financial position,” Tetschner said of the association during his opening remarks. He talked about new member benefits such as special money-saving credit card processing services, fuel discounts and growing the UMA’s staffing structure to provide “excellent” customer service to members.
Tetschner also touted the UMA’s investment in legislation regulation. To that end, Ken Presley, UMA’s VP, legislative/regulatory affairs & industry relations/COO and Becky Weber, managing director for D.C.-based government relations firm Prime Policy Group, provided the legislative regulatory affairs update to members. In a switch from year’s past, Presley said that there were no new regulations to talk about. Instead, he reviewed the regulations that were being eased or withdrawn.
“We saw the withdrawal of the obstructive sleep apnea rulemaking process that had started, the insurance limits increase was withdrawn, and, the lease-interchange rule is being reworked,” Presley said, adding, “We hope to see that mostly eliminated by the spring.”
Additionally, the Trump Administration has bumped the speed-limiter mandate. “We seem to understand that it will be ultimately withdrawn,” Presley said of the mandate.
Despite the spate of regulatory relief, which operators should “be feeling in their bottom line,” the industry still needs to “play defense,” says Weber. “We have two sleep apnea bills pending in the House and Senate. And, for those of you operating school buses, there’s also a bill in Congress that would mandate seatbelts on all new school buses, with no funding,” she said.
Tax reform outcome
Tax reform was a big concern for the UMA, according to Presley, citing preservation of fuel tax credits, avoiding a heavy vehicle use tax and the possibility of operators needing to expense their equipment. “I’m happy to say we survived all that during the tax bill.”
Presley also explained what other benefits may arise from the recent tax reform.
“We are seeing a lot of companies responding to the tax reform by giving their employees bonuses, so that’s going to mean more discretionary money to spend to go on charters and tours,” Presley said. He urged members to anticipate and prepare for that trend. “There’s something like 10,000 boomers retiring every day. We’re working on how to market to them. So I anticipate some growth for the industry in the next few years,” Presley said.
The previous regulatory environment has hurt the industry, according to Presley.
“Back in 2007, we were doing 751 million passenger trips a year. That number is now a little bit below 600 million passenger trips a year, so we’ve shrunk,” he said. While the economy also played a role, the regulatory environment had a lot to do with it, he explained. “We saw new entrants virtually dry up. Right now we are about 700 motorcoach carriers shy from where we were in 2010.”
Looking forward, there are a lot of growth opportunities to take advantage of. “There is a void not being filled by our traditional new entrants,” Presley says. “This is being filled by limo operators that are competing in a new way, and they are buying motorcoaches.”
With the regulatory pause, it’s a good time for operators to rethink their business strategies. “We have to think of how we are going to market our companies and we need to get busy and start growing again,” Presley said. “We’re starting to see that trend now. We were down 4,000 motorcoaches from 2010, it’s about 2,000 now. So, we are seeing the growth of fleets trending upwards.”