Recruiting, hiring, and retaining drivers is the biggest challenge facing motorcoach operations today, according to 85% of respondents to METRO’s Top 50 Motorcoach Survey this year. Additionally, when asked what their biggest expense other than equipment was, labor was the top answer as well as labor-related expenses, including health care/benefits and pay, with fuel costs coming in a distant second.
Overall, 23,831 vehicles were reported by this year’s Top 50, with 9,267, or 39%, of the vehicles reported motorcoaches — a slight decrease of about 200 coaches compared with last year.
A look at the numbers
Sixty-eight percent of this year’s respondents reported an increase in business, with 22% reporting that their business was down, and 10% reporting no change. The largest growth reported was 27%, with the largest decrease in business reported 15%.
Meanwhile, 84% of respondents plan on purchasing an estimated 554 new vehicles in 2017, with top supplier choices, including ABC Companies/Van Hool, Motor Coach Industries, Prevost and Temsa. Last year, 73% of operators reported that they were planning on purchasing 591 new vehicles — a number that was also down from the previous year.
To help increase business, 66% of respondents reported they are contracting with private companies, followed by obtaining school contracts (56%); obtaining government contracts (46%); partnering with other providers (37%); and diversifying into other types of transportation business, such as paratransit and limousine (22%). Additional ways operators are trying to grow business included the acquisition of competitors, finding niche markets, and increasing marketing efforts.
While an overwhelming number of operators report that their biggest source of competition is other operators (91%), taxis and transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft) are gaining traction (30% versus about 8% in 2016), followed by personal automobiles (27%), and airlines (20%).
Word of mouth is still the preferred method of marketing for 46% of respondents, followed by social media (17%) and internet advertising (15%). Meanwhile, 50% of respondents report that they have increased their marketing efforts on social media, with an additional 34% saying they have increased their internet advertising efforts.
When asked what they are doing to combat the recruiting, hiring, and retaining drivers issue, many operators say they are improving training, increasing their pay/benefits packages, and concentrating more financial and marketing resources on recruitment.
With 64% of respondents saying they increased driver training in 2016, the most popular topics covered included (in order) safety, customer service, ADA training, and familiarization with the technologies on board coaches, such as Electronic Logging Devices.
Some of the most popular innovations implemented by motorcoach operators in 2016 include Wi-Fi and 110-volt outlets, online reservation systems and paperless tickets, GPS tracking, and sales and recruitment bonuses.
Finally, while the federal government continues its focus on improved motorcoach safety and customer awareness, METRO asked if operators are concerned with the approach being taken, with 55% saying yes, which was the same as 2016.
“By and large, we do support most of the regulations that are being implemented,” said one operator. “There are regulations that are proposed from time to time that we do question. The most recent is the leasing regulation, which is being proposed. While its intent is to go after companies that are not safe, it will adversely affect the law abiding companies and make it virtually impossible to manage.”
“Too often they implement new regulations under the guise of safety, which do nothing to improve safety, while ignoring simple steps they could take that could actually have an impact,” added another operator.
Additional concerns raised, involved FMCSA’s CSA scoring system, inconsistent guidelines in regards to roadside inspection of coaches, and imposing regulations without providing any financial assistance for implementation.
METRO would like to thank all of the motorcoach operators around the U.S. and Canada who responded to this year’s survey. If your operation would like to receive next year’s survey, or you have suggestions how to improve it, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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