Focusing on growth both in business and as an industry, the United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Expo 2016 fueled operators with the latest trends and celebrated key legislative victories.
The event, which was held this year in Atlanta, opened up with an inspirational keynote speech by former U.S. ambassador, Atlanta mayor and congressman Andrew Young, who spoke about the power of positive change in the city, as well as the motorcoach industry’s role in growing Atlanta’s visitors from 5,000 per year in his early career to 49 million each year, today.
Young also spoke of his affinity for the motorcoach industry, which was developed at a young age.
In closing, he urged the crowd to do everything possible to live their lives with as little stress as possible and reminded them that the reason they were at Expo is that they were trying to improve on what they are already doing well.
Meanwhile, Ken Presley, VP, industry relations/COO, and Becky Webber, lobbyist for the UMA, lauded the industry’s efforts in making their voices heard on Capitol Hill. Presley and Webber said the industry’s hard work was most evident in the FAST Act surface transportation bill, which was signed in December and included several victories for the industry, including the review of the FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety, Accountability program and the continuance of the partial fuel tax exemption.
Perhaps the largest victory, though, was the work done to prevent the hiking of insurance minimums — a critical issue the industry was faced with, which could have forced many operators to simply go out of business if they were raised too high. Instead of large, unsubstantiated hikes, the FAST Act requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a study, specific to the passenger carrier industry, before FMCSA can proceed with a rule to increase insurance minimums. “The industry would not have won without your efforts,” Webber told the crowd, before urging them to continue their dialogue with Congress at this year’s UMA Fly-In, which will be held this year from April 12 to 13.
As far as regulations, Presley reminded the crowd that the seat belt rule officially goes into effect this November, before discussing some of the latest final rulings and proposals that were released, including the FMCSA’s Final Rule requiring the use of electronic logging devices.
Presley also urged the industry to read and provide comments on the recently released Safety Fitness Determination Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which would update FMCSA’s safety fitness rating methodology by integrating on-road safety data from inspections, along with the results of carrier investigations and crash reports, to determine a motor carrier’s overall safety fitness on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, a session on millennials featured the perspectives of four next-generation professionals, who discussed everything from Uber’s impact on motorcoach operators to what the industry might look like down the road.
Mike Costa of Boston’s A Yankee Line Inc. and Sarah Walker of Austin, Texas’ Star Shuttle and Charter said the industry could take advantage of Uber by urging customers to use the ridesharing service to get from their current location to a stop along an operator’s route.
Walker added that with the relative ease a customer can get from Point A to Point B using ridesharing services, it will be critical for the motorcoach industry to adapt new technologies to remain transparent and easy for the user.
The group also agreed that as contraction and consolidation continue that it will be important for operations to not get too big because it may cause them to lose their ability to be nimble.
Other session topics covered during UMA Expo, included marketing to emerging markets, creative ways to retain drivers and financing best practices.
During a discussion with reporters, UMA President/CEO Vic Parra said that, overall, operators are reporting positive growth, which is evident in the increase in the amount of motorcoaches being purchased.
He also spoke of the necessity to continue having a dialogue with Congress on important issues facing the industry, including finding ways to be part of the transportation solution in cities around the nation.
There was also much to see on the Expo show floor.
Spanish-based Irizar unveiled two 45-foot motorcoaches, dubbed the i6, which will be sold to the North American market through an exclusive distribution deal with INA Bus Sales.
The two versions of the i6 on the show floor coupled a Cummins engine to an Allison transmission, with heights of 12.23 feet and 12.89 feet, respectively.
Irizar officials told METRO Magazine that more than 3,000 vehicles are currently in operation on five continents throughout the world, with the company set to announce its first U.S. operation shortly.
Adaptations made to the i6 for the U.S. market include the introduction of a two-piece windshield, increased storage space and a longer wheelbase.
In addition to showcasing two 2016 J4500s, featuring a tighter-turning independent front suspension system, Bendix brakes and an optional radar-based collision avoidance system, MCI introduced its new President/CEO Paul Soubry, who also serves as president/CEO of New Flyer, which acquired MCI in December.
During a press conference, Soubry said that he is ecstatic about the acquisition because of the surety it brings to both MCI and the motorcoach industry as a whole.
In addition to the two J4500s, MCI also showcased the latest version of two-door Setra S 417 Top Class, with a club-corner lounge, Voyage Ambassador seats, TopSky glass roof and more.
Meanwhile, Temsa and CH Bus Sales unveiled the updated and enhanced TS 35E, featuring a new modern look to the front face and rear door, in addition to a side cosmetic plate, which is similar to the TS 45.
Robert Foley, CEO/president for CH Bus Sales, said that the evolution of the 35-foot coach exemplified the success Temsa has found since its launch in the U.S. market in 2001. He added that CH Bus Sales, which serves as the exclusive distributor for Temsa in the U.S. and Canada, recently sold the 500th vehicle in the U.S. During a ceremony at Expo, it was announced that Shannon Kaser of Mishawaka, Ind.’s Royal Excursion, a long-time user of the Temsa product, will be adding the first TS 35E.
Meanwhile, ABC Companies featured several vehicles on the show floor, including the new Van Hool CX 35 motorcoach, complete with Hoboken, N.J.’s Academy Bus branding. The 35-foot motorcoach integrates many exclusive features unique to the small-coach segment and offers extensive parts interchangeability with other Van Hool models.
The company delivered two CX 35s to New Orleans’ Louisiana Motor Coach and one to Southern California’s TCS, during separate ceremonies at the show.
ABC also showcased its TD925 double-deck bus refurbishment program, which includes three options: a closed-top model for traditional tour and charter markets, a sky-deck version for day tour and sightseeing businesses, and a “conversion” model with custom options.
Besides Metro Magazine naming Dale and Dennis Streif as its Motorcoach Operator of the Year, several other operators were acknowledged during Expo 2016, including San Luis Obispo, Calif.’s Silverado Stages, who won the UMA’s Green Highway Award, and New Orleans’ Lewis Coaches Inc. and Modesto, Calif.’s Storer Coachways, who took home the Small Operator and Large Operator Vision Awards, respectively.
UMA Expo will be held in St. Louis in 2017, from Feb. 26 to March 2.