“Where to start?” This is a daunting question that comes to mind with most group organizers when they are tasked with planning and arranging transportation for their group or team.
Whether it’s collegiate, high school or youth club sports, the demands for effective team travel transportation solutions are growing along with the demands for expert advice. As you travel greater distances from home, finding a consistent and reliable level of service can be more difficult.
First Things First
It is important when chartering a bus for a group that you fully understand your Duty of Care obligations. As the person in charge, you have a duty to extend an appropriate level of due diligence to provide your group with safe transportation. Whether you are an expert or not, vetting a transportation is a critical first step. The reality is that all ground transportation providers are not the same.
A balanced approach to safety, service and savings should be the cornerstone of any program. What follows are some suggestions on how to keep this simple formula at the forefront when finding the right ground transportation solution for your group.
In all things involving the transportation of people, safety is paramount, and, it’s worth repeating: as a group organizer you have a Duty of Care responsibility. From the safety of guests and staff to vetting bus operators, this needs to be your first consideration. Working with a company with an established means of assisting and to validating that you have taken the steps find the safest solution is worth considering.
One option is a charter bus company that is STATS (Safe Transport of Athletes, Teams & Students) Certified, the standard used by the NCAA. The NCAA initiated this program to vet transportation providers carrying student athletes during NCAA Championships. Of course, you’ll want the latest and best equipment and service, but safety is first.
At one time, the Department of Defense (DoD) had the “gold standard” for certifying safety of operators, but that program has ended. Currently, the only independent and proactive safety vetting and certification program in the industry is the STATS Certification. At the very least, you should check that an operator is authorized by the DoT. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has $5 million of auto insurance coverage. Be aware, however, your Duty of Care responsibility requires more.
Now that you have taken care of vetting the transportation supplier, evaluating your service and cost options can begin.
Great service is always the goal. Quality companies will have a fleet of newer vehicles and will employ friendly and professional drivers. Don’t be shy about asking for references and inquiring about the age of the vehicle you are hiring.
Equipment is standard and a late model vehicle from one manufacturer is comparable to another. You do, however, need the right type of vehicle for the distance you are traveling. A motor coach is the largest and the most comfortable option for traveling over the road. In town, you can use a mini-bus or school bus but these won’t work for long distances. Most motor coaches are equipped with bathrooms and Wi-Fi; these are basic amenities for any group traveling for more than a few hours.
This chart illustrates amenity options, average capacities and more.
Finally, you are ready to understand the cost options. As we have highlighted, all bus companies are not equal. Pricing will also vary. Just make sure you’re comparing your options fairly. Narrowing the field to nationally recognized transportation services can make things less variable.
Consider this when looking for information and negotiating the price of your service: Should saving $50 on the price of the bus really be your most important consideration? If you spend hours finding the lowest price, did you really save? More important considerations should be ease of access to information and ease of arranging the service.
Think about any travel service you purchase: whether airline seat, hotel room or rental car, you can break the process of your service into four steps: access, arrange, dispatch and deliver. It’s likely your last purchase experience was conducted online and it took no more than a couple minutes. With some 3,700 different companies in the USA, that will not happen when you charter a bus. A good service company may cost an extra $100 or so, but your time and the positive experience of the team or group is worth it. Does spending more time with your team and less time stressing about your transportation sound like a good idea?
Pricing Your Service
“So how is service priced?” is, of course, the next question everyone asks. Some companies charge a day rate that includes up to 10 hours of driving. This time is in line with the allowable driving hours of the driver. Others will charge an hourly fee and some will charge by the mile. There is not much standardization. Much like an airline or hotel: the rate will depend on demand and availability. The earlier you book, the better.
There are also laws governing driver hours. Legally, a driver can only drive 10 hours a day and be on duty for 15 hours. After a day of service, a driver requires eight continuous hours off-duty, but many of the best companies require a longer period. Getting a good night’s rest for the driver is just as important as it is for your lead player. If your group plans on traveling for more than 10 hours, you’ll need a second driver, which will create a material increase to the cost of service. Be sure to ask.
Fuel is typically included in the cost of your charter. Tolls and parking, however, are usually treated as an extra, and a cost for which you will be responsible. Depending on the venue or the hotel, parking for your bus may or may not be included. The cost to park a bus is typically four to six times the cost of a regular vehicle. Multi-day trips may require the driver to stay with your group. This will be your cost as well. Often, hotels will provide a complimentary hotel room for your driver when booking a large group; ask in advance to obtain this savings.
You Need to Work with a Tech-Savvy Company
Technology is a pervasive part of all our lives, so finding a transportation specialist that embraces innovation and can make your job easier is important. Whether it’s a bus with Wi-Fi and power outlets for all your devices or having the ability to build an online itinerary, working with a technology-savvy partner will make you the star of the team.
Group organizers who have access to online itineraries, virtual planning tools and real-time mobile information are more productive and less stressed. Sharing details with your group is as simple as hitting “enter.” Better communication does not have to cost you extra. Companies that invest in technology are also the ones that invest in streamlining operations for their own good – and yours.
GPS tracking is another great way to address your Duty of Care responsibility and a real plus for passengers and parents. Determining where your bus is in real-time means peace of mind. Some transportation providers can also offer technology, which will let you sell seats to your passengers, making it easier to organize your group and collect funds for the charter services.
Good service providers are with you all the way. Don’t settle for average. Cheapest isn’t always your best option. Finding a balanced approach to safety, service and savings is the smart way to provide a higher level of service and better experience. It’s also the path with less hassle for you.
With any luck, these tips and brief discussion were helpful. When searching for trusted bus operators, or other ground transportation options, remember that Duty of Care is your responsibility. Vetting the transportation provider is, and always should be, job one. SDM