Bus

Schools emerge as profitable market for luxury buses

Posted on September 30, 2019 by By Chris Wolski

At Cardiff Limousine & Transportation in Palm Desert, Calif., owner Gary Cardiff has taken the luxury transportation model and have made it work for both private and public schools
At Cardiff Limousine & Transportation in Palm Desert, Calif., owner Gary Cardiff has taken the luxury transportation model and have made it work for both private and public schools
With the shifts and fragmentation in every area of the transportation industry, it is often necessary to diversify into new markets to remain viable and profitable.

Combining luxury transportation and private and public schools is a win-win for the students and the operators.

“It’s more than just a school bus experience,” observes Joe Gillis, CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Navigator Luxury Coaches. “We provide luxury, convenience, and safety.”

Northwest Navigator Luxury Coaches currently operates four 27- to 35-passenger minicoaches and a Thomas Bus for its school contracts, which consist primarily of elite private institutions in the Portland area.

The company’s vehicles offer a nice interior, comfort (including air conditioning), seat belts, and device plug-ins so students can charge their devices or tap into the movies offered on board.

Meeting the Luxury Challenge

While there is little doubt that there is a market for luxury pupil transportation, operators need to keep in mind that its more than just purchasing a nice vehicle, and advertising that you have an air-conditioned vehicle.

Gillis notes that, because you’re transporting children, a safe and well-maintained vehicle is only a small part of the equation. Perhaps more important is having a driver with a clean record who is properly trained.

“It’s not just about transportation, it’s about safety and quality,” he says.

Gillis notes that while operating in the private sector means that he’s not required to perform some of the same background checks as a public school bus operator, he has raised the bar on his own hiring practices — which will disqualify a driver with any sort of criminal record.

Because of the greater expectations of luxury transportation — particularly from parents — operators must emphasize service, reliability, and safety in their day-to-day operations.

Operators also need to make sure that they are following their local and state ordinances or SPAB requirements related to their vehicles and personnel. Not doing so could cause legal and business headaches that could go right to the bottom line.

In addition, operators need to make sure their drivers are properly licensed, their vehicles all have DOT numbers, and the operation remains in compliance with hours of service (HOS) and other regulations.

The operator also needs to make sure it emphasizes customer service, Gillis noting that “When we fail, we try to make it right. It’ll get around quickly if poor the service was poor.”

Because of the greater expectations of luxury transportation — particularly from parents — operators must emphasize service, reliability, and safety in their day-to-day operations.

While there is little doubt that there is a market for luxury pupil transportation, operators need to keep in mind that its more than just purchasing a nice vehicle.
Northwest Navigator Luxury Coaches
While there is little doubt that there is a market for luxury pupil transportation, operators need to keep in mind that its more than just purchasing a nice vehicle.Northwest Navigator Luxury Coaches

Private Luxury + Pupil Safety = Profitability

At Cardiff Limousine & Transportation in Palm Desert, Calif., owner Gary Cardiff has taken the luxury transportation model and have made it work for both private and public schools. He runs buses for private and public school pupil groups, especially for school events and field trips.

At private schools, teachers often have budgets for enrichment and educational outings where students travel on Cardiff’s luxury motorcoaches to destinations such as Sea World in San Diego or to arts and cultural museums in the Los Angeles region.

Graduation nights throughout May and June are also big business now since they involve day trips instead of just an evening out, Cardiff says.

“Rarely do private schools have their own buses for their sporting events and enrichment trips,” he says. “They have to call a [state] certified company with over the road motorcoaches.”

As a California bus operation, the company must be certified under state rules, known as SPAB (school pupil activity bus). Any vehicle, whether a van, minibus, or motorcoach that carriers nine or more passengers, must also be SPAB certified. “When private or public schools don’t want to ride on (regular) school buses, they use SPAB-certified buses,” Cardiff says.

SPAB rules require every driver to complete 20 hours of classroom instruction and 20 hours driving training, pass a written California High Patrol test and a CHP driving test, and pass fingerprint and background checks. Every year, each SPAB driver must complete another 10 hours of continuing education.

On the vehicle side, every vehicle used for pupil transportation must undergo a rigorous annual CHP inspection, and Cardiff sets up a certified mechanic inspection every 3,000 miles or 45 days, whichever comes first, per SPAB rules. Inspectors thoroughly evaluate the safety and mechanical equipment of the bus.

That means Cardiff buys only the highest quality buses. Private and public schools mostly request 56- to 57-passenger motorcoaches, which at Cardiff Transportation include Van Hool and Prevost models. The large coaches handle about 90% of the company’s school-related business, with the remaining 10% using 27-passenger Grech Motors minibuses or Sprinter vans.

During some weeks of the year, all of the SPAB-certified motorcoaches in Cardiff’s 74-vehicle fleet are sold out for school-related trips

“All of our buses are all newer models with the same general body style,” Cardiff says.

Worth the Effort

While private bus transportation for pupils invokes many rules and recordkeeping requirements, this evergreen client niche tied to seasonal and school year cycles produces steady, reliable, and profitable work for operators that can be planned out well in advance.

Northwest Navigator’s Gillis sees adding a luxury pupil transportation to the mix as worth the effort.

“People just love it, they see the difference when you pull up,” he says. “It’s a new market and if you do well, other schools will find out. It’ll open up the market for you.”

View comments or post a comment on this story. (0 Comments)

More News

Colo.'s Roaring Fork adding 8 New Flyer CHARGE electric buses

The order includes four ABB 150 kWh depot chargers purchased from New Flyer Infrastructure Solutions.™

Santa Barbara switches bus fleet to renewable diesel

Different from biodiesel, the fuel is refined from a mix of more than 10 different wastes and residues and various vegetable oils.

Biz News: Proterra and MCI deliver vehicles

Calif.'s Royal Coach celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new J4500, while Proterra lands first N.M. electric bus contract.

FTA awards $423M in bus and bus facilities grants

In Fiscal Year 2019, FTA has made available more than $12 billion in funding.

ElDorado launches 2 new buses, updates model for 2020

New offerings will be built on Ford Transit and F550 chassis.

See More News

Post a Comment

Post Comment

Comments (0)

More From The World's Largest Fleet Publisher

Automotive Fleet

The Car and truck fleet and leasing management magazine

Business Fleet

managing 10-50 company vehicles

Fleet Financials

Executive vehicle management

Government Fleet

managing public sector vehicles & equipment

TruckingInfo.com

THE COMMERCIAL TRUCK INDUSTRY’S MOST IN-DEPTH INFORMATION SOURCE

Work Truck Magazine

The number 1 resource for vocational truck fleets

Schoolbus Fleet

Serving school transportation professionals in the U.S. and Canada

LCT Magazine

Global Resource For Limousine and Bus Transportation