On hand to receive METRO’s Innovative Operator of the Year Award from Executive Editor Alex Roman (far right) at ABA's Marketplace 2024, Trisha Fridrich, VP, Business Development & Marketing, at AAAHI; Frede Smith, Director, Business Development, and Fitz Richards, Operations Manager at First Class Transportation; Lindy Chevalier, Director, Compliance and Fleet, and Louis Hotard, Director, Maintenance, at Hotard Coaches; and Graeme Legh, CEO at AAAHI (Left to Right).  -  Photo: ABA

On hand to receive METRO’s Innovative Operator of the Year Award from Executive Editor Alex Roman (far right) at ABA's Marketplace 2024, Trisha Fridrich, VP, Business Development & Marketing, at AAAHI; Frede Smith, Director, Business Development, and Fitz Richards, Operations Manager at First Class Transportation; Lindy Chevalier, Director, Compliance and Fleet, and Louis Hotard, Director, Maintenance, at Hotard Coaches; and Graeme Legh, CEO at AAAHI (Left to Right).

Photo: ABA

In 2012 when Hotard Coaches and All Aboard America joined forces under the Lakewood, Colo.-based All Aboard America Holdings Inc. (AAAHI) umbrella nobody knew quite what to expect, but today AAAHI stands as the fourth largest motorcoach provider in the U.S. with six companies serving the South, Southwest, and beyond.

Its companies include Arizona’s All Aboard America; Colorado’s Ace Express Coaches; Louisiana’s Hotard Coaches; Southern California’s Sun Diego Charter; California’s Lux Bus America; and Texas’ First Class Transportation, which combined serves thousands of customers while sharing in a common mission to deliver the highest levels of safety and service in each region.

In June of this year, the Australian-based Kelsian Group successfully completed the acquisition of AAAHI, folding it further under the umbrella of Kelsian’s global footprint of operations in the transportation and tourism sectors spanning Australia, Singapore, London, and the Channel Islands.

AAAHI is now led by CEO Graeme Legh, who relocated his family closer to the company’s Denver-based headquarters when he took over the position in September.

In January, AAAHI was named METRO's Innovative Motorcoach Operator of the Year at a ceremony held in conjunction with the American Bus Association's 2024 Marketplace in Nashville.

“It’s always incredible to be recognized for the work you are doing and we are honored by the award,” says Trisha Fridrich, VP, business development and marketing. “Innovation is a term most people think about in terms of technology, but part of ours is in our business strategy. We essentially have six separate, and previously successful, operations who found a home that enables them to continue to grow while retaining their independence. That is something that is often overlooked but is very innovative in and of itself.”

ACE Express, led by Shawn Davis, is the only company in the U.S. running a fully-electric motorcoach on a charter operation and also provides its electric motorcoaches to pro sports teams, universities, weddings, or any other group interested in utilizing an electric coach in the Denver area.  -  Photo: AAAHI

ACE Express, led by Shawn Davis, is the only company in the U.S. running a fully-electric motorcoach on a charter operation and also provides its electric motorcoaches to pro sports teams, universities, weddings, or any other group interested in utilizing an electric coach in the Denver area.

Photo: AAAHI

Diving into Tech, Finding its Benefits

Leveraging AAAHI’s corporate backing, the company has made several technology changes to ensure each of its operations continues to run safely and smoothly.

After taking on several acquisitions, AAAHI decided to overhaul its colocation and disaster-recovery solutions to consolidate distributed platforms and update its aging IT infrastructure in 2018.

Sr. Network Engineer, Eric Cornwell and AAAHI’s IT team worked with hybrid IT infrastructure provider Flexential to better understand its unique requirements and implement future-proof solutions. The AAAHI and Flexential teams jointly identified the solutions and strategies to solve the company's biggest IT challenges, including relocating critical operational workloads and implementing a disaster-recovery solution.

In 2019, AAAHI began installing the Samsara telematics platform — a sensor and video-based driver performance and monitoring solution — on all of its motorcoaches.

The system is used to detect events such as speeding, harsh breaking, aggressive acceleration, hard cornering, and excessive idling, and features management alerts with Live View cameras, which records incidents for coaching and feedback sessions, as well as evidence for law enforcement and insurance companies.

“Safety drives all of our decisions here at AAAHI. While that sounds like an easy tagline to say, it really is built into our culture,” explains Fridrich.

Fridrich adds AAAHI’s focus on safety doesn’t only make sense, “it also makes cents.” By adding the Samsara system she says the company has been able to keep a handle on insurance rates, workers comp claims, and other line items associated with safety and risk management. But, where AAAHI has really seen the biggest boost from Samsara is in the retention of its valuable driver force.

“We’ve really professionalized the CDL driver role here, by making sure we’re giving them ongoing coaching and training. We do that by not only using the Samsara footage to teach corrective actions but also to point out instances where our drivers made the right decisions,” explains Fridrich. “That engagement with our safety teams, we feel, goes a long way in making our drivers successful in their jobs. It also lets them know we appreciate them as people and are here to give them a career path moving forward.”

Another way Samsara helps build driver retention is it ensures AAAHI’s drivers are focused on safety on a daily basis through its driver scorecards, with many typically seeing their safety scores going up significantly in their first 90 days on the job.

“It quantifies their improvement, and it’s always nice to feel like you are not only doing a good job at work and improving but that your managers are there to recognize the improvement and continue to help you be successful. Risk and Safety Manager, Lon Ingram, and Cindi Ruff, our chief people officer, work diligently to ensure our teams have all the right tools to be successful ” she explains.

Fridrich explains the company also utilized the COVID-19 downtime to get all of its separate entities fully integrated under the Microsoft umbrella, which included the introduction to Power BI — a collection of software services, apps, and connectors that work together to turn unrelated sources of data into coherent, visually immersive, and interactive insights.

“We have a great data analyst, Jim Sinclair, who handles all of PowerBI for us. And frankly, it’s pretty incredible because when you look at the data across the platforms you can really see what’s going on at each of our operations,” Fridrich explains. “Of course, nothing beats being boots on the ground, but the data is helping each of our operations as they continue to find ways to improve and grow. And as we continue to become more knowledgeable, we will continue to work on the way our systems are integrated, because we feel that integration is what will drive a lot of the value in that data.”   

AAAHI is also focused on sustainability from a corporate standpoint through steps that include making a more concerted effort to go paperless and through the implementation of a water filtration system at its First Class Transportation facility in Houston.  -  Photo: AAAHI

AAAHI is also focused on sustainability from a corporate standpoint through steps that include making a more concerted effort to go paperless and through the implementation of a water filtration system at its First Class Transportation facility in Houston.

Photo: AAAHI

Sustainability Efforts

Fridrich says ACE Express, led by Shawn Davis, is the only company in the U.S. running a fully-electric motorcoach on a charter operation and also provides its electric motorcoaches to pro sports teams, universities, weddings, or any other group interested in utilizing an electric coach in the Denver area. It also has a number of corporate contracts that run fully electric buses in both Colorado and California.

To electrify some of its motorcoaches, AAAHI worked with Loveland, Colo.’s Lightning eMotors and ABC Companies to repower two old diesel coaches — one standard and one double decker.

“VP of Fleet and Financial Planning, Adam Sander, worked hard to manage installation of electric charging infrastructure at two sites now, and going through that with the supply chain, permitting, and approval processes was not easy. Those services are much easier to operate now that we can plan for charging the coaches and to do so at opportune times,” Fridrich explains. “Initially, we had to take our coaches offsite to charge them and had to pay a driver to be there with the vehicle. Again, because we are collecting data across our operations, though, we were able to make the case to implement the necessary charging infrastructure.”

Fridrich says going forward as more and more clients desire to go electric, AAAHI will continue to provide those options but is currently accepting that challenge on its own where it makes sense based on their data.

“We are big fans of electric, and from a sustainability perspective, it’s great — the buses are quiet and clean, especially when you are operating them in downtown areas,” she says. “But they are not currently useful on every type of trip, so we have to be a little more thoughtful about when we are able to utilize an electric motorcoach versus a diesel. Because of that, we are currently continuing to work with our partners who want to go electric and evaluating where it makes sense to implement charging infrastructure at our other locations.”

With the company also exploring the use of hydrogen in the future, Fridrich adds it makes sense for a company of AAAHI’s size to continue exploring sustainable fuel options and to somewhat be on the bleeding edge of the adoption process.

“It costs a significant amount of money for us to electrify our charter motorcoaches, but someone has to be on the other side of the transaction and work with the manufacturers so they aren’t making products no one is going to buy,” she explains. “There were many challenges and lessons learned along the way with electrification because it’s not always easy or fun to take on something new. We are large enough and have the people available to spend the time necessary to examine the issues involved with these types of technologies and feel it is an important part of what we can do to help the industry move forward.”   

AAAHI is also focused on sustainability from a corporate standpoint through steps that include making a more concerted effort to go paperless and through the implementation of a water filtration system at its First Class Transportation facility in Houston.

“We’re washing the coaches at that facility on a closed-loop system where the water is reclaimed through drains and is then filtered through biodigesters that remove all the impurities so that it can be used again,” Fridrich explains, adding that it is just a small step in the company’s desire to good environmental stewards.

“It’s the daily habits we are nurturing here,” she says. “Just like our focus as a company is to ensure we are safe every single day, we are also trying to be better as a corporation and move forward making decisions with that same mindset.”

If you ask the AAAHI team what makes them successful, they’ll tell you it’s all about the people.  -  Photo: AAAHI

If you ask the AAAHI team what makes them successful, they’ll tell you it’s all about the people.

Photo: AAAHI

But Really, It’s About the People

If you ask the AAAHI team what makes them successful, they’ll tell you it’s all about the people. Each of its six operations is run by knowledgeable industry veterans who have a history of running successful companies even before coming under the AAAHI umbrella.

From a corporate standpoint, as the company began to look at how it would emerge out of the COVID pandemic, AAAHI did find itself exiting some lines of business while re-focusing its efforts on other lines of business. Currently, the company’s work is split almost evenly between contract and charter work.

AAAHI also worked on making sure they had the right people in the right places, including Fridrich who was brought on to focus and expand the company’s contract work, as well as the aforementioned team members who focus on IT, data, and other aspects of the business. It also made sure each individual operation is set up with similar structures as they handle the day-to-day activities, while AAAHI handles the bigger picture items from a corporate standpoint.

“One of the things that gets easier when you are as large as us and have six different brands across multiple regions is you have the ability to hire people who are good at specialized pieces,” says Fridrich. “There aren’t many operations that have a general counsel onboard, but we do, which is helpful when I have a question on a contract, for example. We have a number of people in our business just like that who are experts at what they do and can help us support all of our brands.” 

As mentioned earlier, AAAHI has professionalized its driver positions in an effort to increase retention, however, like many other companies around the nation it is still finding it hard to find drivers and mechanics at each of its operations.

Some things they are doing to help make it more appealing to join the AAAHI team include a recently increased pay scale and attractive benefits packages, 401K matches, and guaranteeing a 40-hour work week in many locations.

“I don’t think many companies are doing it, but it helps ensure that if we’re experiencing a slow week from a business perspective, they don’t feel it in their paycheck,” says Fridrich.

Further efforts to retain employees include offering tool allowances and investing in ASE credentials for mechanics. Also because AAAHI’s operations offer smaller vehicles that don’t require a CDL, the company offers those drivers an option to eventually “graduate” to attain their CDL and become part of its motorcoach driver team.

“We work hard at being consistent with an approach that puts our team first, which really makes them want to stay,” says Fridrich. “That approach, we feel, gives people a reason to come to work each day because they love what they do and have the flexibility to continue to grow in their careers.”

About the author
Alex Roman

Alex Roman

Executive Editor

Alex Roman is Executive Editor of METRO Magazine — the only magazine serving the public transit and motorcoach industries for more than 100 years.

View Bio
0 Comments