While there are many similarities in the issues that every motorcoach operator around the nation faces, sometimes those issues are unique to a specific sub-set of the industry.
To address those issues, there are small groups that are helping fill the knowledge gap, enrich careers and work as a team to make the industry as safe as possible. No matter what the group’s specific aim is, though, the universal message each shares is building a network of colleagues that will help fuel your own operation.
METRO spoke to a few such groups about what they are doing and how they want to include other operators from around the nation.
Hispanic Motorcoach Council (HMC)
Year Formed: 2013
Membership: Currently open to all American Bus Association (ABA) members, the group currently consists of approximately 50 operators and is looking to grow its ranks. Although the name has its obvious implications, all are encouraged to join.
Purpose: Offers support (through networking), knowledge and information related to security issues, safety risks, legislative oversight, and government processes and regulations. The HMC’s goal is to make sure that each of its members are kept well informed of developments within the industry, delivering each and every one of its members the tools that allows them to establish long-term strategies and success as well as implementation of short-term actions.
Contact Info: www.buses.org/hmc; firstname.lastname@example.org; (202) 218-7246 (English) or (202) 218-7244 (Spanish).
The HMC was formed in 2013 to educate Hispanic-owned motorcoach companies, with all their meetings and informational and marketing materials available in both English and Spanish. With that, the HMC also encourages operators to join the ABA and their other local and national associations by educating them on what the benefits of membership are.
“Of course there may be a language barrier in some cases, but I think there is a lack of information and understanding what the associations really do for operators, in regards to both governmental and safety issues, which prevents them from joining the larger associations,” explains HMC Chairman and President of DC Trails William Torres. “Once they understand all the benefits they can gain by being a member, as well as the inclusiveness, they pretty much join.”
Although the HMC has annual meetings at ABA’s Marketplace, the group will also travel to areas to help operators who are dealing with specific regional issues. Its most recent meeting took the group to Laredo, Texas, where operators were having issues when crossing the Mexico/U.S. border.
“At one point, some of the operators were talking about a 15-hour wait just to cross the border,” Torres explains. “We’re talking about people not able to use the restroom or even get off the bus to stretch or anything for that long.”
To address the situation, the HMC hosted several local operators, as well as federal, state and local officials, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Texas Department of Transportation and the city’s mayor to discuss the issues.
Out of those meetings came several improvements made by the operators to expedite the border-crossing process, including the addition of portable toilets, making it easier to identify luggage, and an increased focus on passenger counts and manifests.
“It’s a really great idea to bring us to your place of operation versus having these meetings in a different city, because the local officials are the people operators need to know and establish a dialogue with,” says Torres.
The council is slated to hold its next meeting in Orlando, Fla., where many operators are dealing with an issue much different than operators in Laredo, Texas.
“In the Miami and Orlando area, there are issues with operators who are not required to have a DOT number, simply because they never leave the state,” Torres says. “Our objective is to have some operators come in, listen, and be part of the solution instead of the problem.”
While Torres feels that solving individual issues is key to the group’s success, his macro view for the HMC is to increase safety and increase the bond amongst motorcoach operators.
International Motorcoach Group (IMG)
Year Formed: 1998
Membership: 53 member companies, or shareholders, operating more than 7,000 vehicles around the U.S. and Canada. For a motorcoach company to join, they must be sponsored by an existing member company, satisfy a level of standards that focuses on safety, training and maintenance programs, plus a commitment to work with the network of IMG companies and secure an acceptance vote from all current members.
Purpose: Formed in response to consolidation in the motorcoach industry, IMG is a private organization owned by the member companies, who have joined together to provide an alternative North American network for customers and on-road support.
Contact Info: www.imgcoach.com; email@example.com; (888) 447-3466.
IMG is not an association, but works closely with both the ABA and United Motorcoach Association, with many IMG companies also having leadership roles in both.
“We support their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and recognize the voice they both give to the motorcoach industry,” explains IMG President Bronwyn Wilson. “In addition, we have dialogue with other associations where members require transportation, such as the United States Tour Operators Association, Student Youth Travel Association and National Tour Association. We work to ensure IMG is a partner on a national level as well as state level as required.”
IMG offers a multitude of services, such as buying and training programs, and was the first organization to create a formalized driver training program for its members, Wilson explains.
“The driver training program was created many years ago and is continually updated. In fact, it’s going through a major update at the moment,” says Wilson. “It’s a tool that many of our members use in tandem with other training programs, forming a real core for both their new and senior drivers.”
IMG also operates as a marketing organization for it members to create sales opportunities and works actively in various fields, such as both tour and sports travel, to leverage IMG companies and the IMG network.
“The support that each IMG company provides to other IMG companies, a responsibility they take on when joining IMG, is a huge bonus for IMG customers in providing seamless support,” Wilson says.
While adding that each company takes on their own sales opportunities, Wilson explains IMG works as an advocate at both national and local trade shows to spread the benefits of motorcoach travel for its member companies.
“Marketing is important for the industry because we need the customer to realize that a motorcoach company is not just a bus, it’s a luxury vehicle that can be used in a multitudes of ways for various groups,” she says.
Wilson feels that the biggest issue facing IMG members, and the industry as a whole, are increased regulations and the impact they have on operating costs, which are becoming more difficult to recoup when charging the customer.
“The customer doesn’t always see all the costs associated with hiring a motorcoach, which is something we try very hard to educate them on,” she says. “It’s more than just a motorcoach that rolls up, it’s the maintenance and safety programs, the training and skillset of the staff, and all the other unseen factors that keep that motorcoach moving.”
Although IMG doesn’t necessarily actively recruit members, the group has identified areas where they have no coverage or potentially require additional coverage, in hopes of finding premium operators that may fit their requirements.
Over the last two years, four new member companies have joined.
“Our goal is not to be hundreds of hundreds operators,” says Wilson. “Our goal is to have a solid footprint across North America, so that we can go out specifically to our customers with a network of operators that can satisfy their needs across the U.S. and Canada.”
Women in Buses Council
Year Formed: 2011
Membership: Open to all, the group is sponsored by the ABA and currently consists of approximately 100 members. While the group is focused on women in the industry, all are welcomed to join.
Purpose: Women in Buses’ goals are to recognize and advance the role of women in the motorcoach industry through networking, education and mentoring programs.
Contact Info: www.buses.org/wib; firstname.lastname@example.org; (800) 283-2877.
Although it has been around since 2011, the Women in Buses Council is in the midst of changing its formation in an effort to better define itself and make it easier for women in the industry to network and/or form mentoring relationships with others who are performing similar job duties.
“At the beginning of this year we got a core group together to decide where we need to go to make the council make sense,” explains Women in Buses Chairman Mary Young, who also co-owns Capitol Bus Lines Inc. in West Columbia, S.C. “We decided to form three committees focusing on executive management; operations and maintenance; and travel, tour and charter, and let our constituents know they can be part of a smaller group, or all three groups, which will enable them to network with people of like interest. We want to be all inclusive of anyone in our industry, welcoming all women working in and with our industry .”
Young adds that the goal of the committees is to allow them to function independently of the larger group, while meeting on at least a quarterly basis, often via conference calls.
At the beginning, the group started out thinking it would focus on women in upper management positions within the industry; however, it quickly realized it would benefit from expanding its ranks.
“It really evolved quickly because women are women and many of them feel as if they are working in a man’s world,” says Young.
To that end, the group’s main goal is to unite women in the industry through networking and education, which they will be doing through webinars and its annual ABA Marketplace meeting in Louisville, Ky., in January 2016.
Ultimately, Young explains that Women in Buses is about enrichment, so its members can be the best they can possibly be and have the confidence to advance their careers.
“There are women in the industry that have done a phenomenal job, but there are others that maybe aren’t exactly sure they know where they want to go and just need a little bit more support,” she says. “Being with other women that work in the same type of scenario helps build both relationships and confidence for them to move ahead.”