Since entering the motorcoach industry in 1975, Caseyville, Ill.-based Vandalia Bus Lines has thrived through growing its fleet, keeping utilization high and providing top-of-the-line service.
Vandalia was initially started in 1932 with a fleet of five buses and provided transportation between St. Louis and several southern Illinois communities.
Leon Streif, an owner of multiple businesses, owned and operated Streif Bus Service with his wife Judy, which had served the Lebanon (Ill.) School District since 1963. Leon had started a charter business with one school bus in 1959 and bought his first motorcoach in the late 1960s — a GMC 4104. Eventually, Leon acquired Vandalia Bus Lines, bringing with it six more General Motors coaches and four new MCI-8s. The Streif family — President Dale Streif, VP Dennis Streif and their sister and Treasurer Melissa — has since grown the fleet to a total of 60 local and over-the-road coaches and more than 100 staff members.
In the early years, Vandalia ran a charter service and a scheduled line-run from St. Louis to Effingham, Ill. and operated school buses for the local community, as well as the surrounding metro area. The carrier now not only offers charter service, but also provides convention and meeting services as well as university transportation services.
Boasting a modern fleet of motorcoaches with all the latest amenities, one key to Vandalia’s success is its location.
“We are centrally located right in the heart of the Midwest,” explains Dale Streif. “We’re not only close to St. Louis, but are basically in the center of several large cities, including Kansas City, Indianapolis and Chicago, that we can get to in four to five hours.”
Another key is the caliber of drivers Vandalia hires and the investment that is made to train and maintain those drivers.
The operator only hires drivers with previous passenger experience — primarily drawing from the school bus industry — offers a quarterly driver bonus, and medical insurance to full time staff and drivers. The company also provides a matching contribution on an IRA for each full-time employee and gives full time drivers one week of paid vacation after two years of service.
They also go through an extensive training program, including classroom and online training through resources including the International Motor Coach Group (IMG), as well as a minimum of 20 hours behind the wheel.
Dennis Streif believes that the investment in training and a good benefits package helps the operation stay on top of one of their biggest challenges — actually finding drivers.
“Filling our driver’s seats is a real challenge for us as well as the industry, in general,” says Dennis. “We hope by offering a good benefits package and great place to work, that it helps make us more appealing in attracting drivers and that the training and equipment we run helps us retain those drivers.”
While the drivers’ seats have been difficult to fill, Vandalia is effectively filling seats with passengers, with the operation boasting a high utilization rate.
Because of its driver safety and training practices, longevity in the industry and more, Vandalia Bus Lines was recently named METRO Magazine’s 2016 Motorcoach Operator of the Year. Dennis was on hand with his mother Judy and son Phillip to receive the award at the United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Expo 2016 in Atlanta in early February.
In addition to providing safe, reliable services to its customers, Vandalia also places a premium on keeping its carbon footprint light.
One major way the operation does so is through the usage of an 11% mixture of biodiesel to power all of its vehicles, from late March through mid-November, before the cold weather sets in.
“We’ve been using biodiesel now for about 10 years and it works well for us,” says Dennis. “We found, though, that it was best for us to stop using it in early- to mid-November because of issues with coagulation. Biodiesel is eco-friendly, which is one of the main reasons we use it, along with the fact that it is produced in the Midwest.”
From the paper in the office to the aluminum and metal in the shop, Vandalia also has a comprehensive recycling program and strives to maintain a paperless workplace, by sending customers confirmations, statements and invoices electronically.
“Going paperless makes it simpler for the customer and saves us a lot on paper, copy machines and all the other expenses associated with using paper,” Dale explains.
In addition to giving back to the community, Dennis also serves as Region I board member for the UMA and chairman of IMG’s board.
Dennis explains that Vandalia has been a member of IMG since 2001, with his two-year term as chairman set to come to an end in August of this year.
“IMG is a tight-knit group of people and other operators, that we get to know each other, closely and intimately; it’s a real brotherhood,” Dennis says.
Aside from networking and learning from other motorcoach operators, Dennis explains that his work with the UMA is more about giving back to the industry.
“Being part of the UMA’s board allows me to learn about things that impact our industry and our businesses. It allows me to represent other operators across the country in addition to lobbying at the state, local and national level,” he says.
Dennis’ lobbying efforts will continue with UMA’s Capitol Hill Days in April, which enables operators the opportunity to discuss important issues impacting the industry directly with their local representatives.
“Anytime you’re in this business, it’s important to do as much politicking as possible, whether it’s at the state, local or national level,” he says.