The world of travel sports turns on the ability to move athletes safely and efficiently from place to place. And whether that means a circulating shuttlebus that runs between the hotel and the tournament venue, or whether it means luxury motor coaches that will pick up athletes from their home field in order to take them to a national competition two states over, the common denominator is that you need to plan it.
So where do you start? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices out there, from the multitude of companies to the variety of vehicles. And yes, we know while there are teams that move around via charter flights, the vast majority of amateur athletes use group ground transportation, meaning buses, so that is what we are going to focus on Here are tips and steps to take in choosing your service:
Understand that a search engine result is not the same as an informed decision: Don’t simply pick a motor coach company at random. The Internet is filled with coach companies boasting toll-free numbers and online ways to get a quote immediately. (By the way, that price you’re quoted at first may vary a bit from what you actually pay, due to availability and fluctuations in the cost of fuel; this happens often and is not a sneaky move on the part of the coach company.)
Just as with all businesses, there are a lot of great service providers as well as a few bad actors and if you’re choosing blindly using an Internet search, the luck of the draw may not be in your favor. Your colleagues in the industry are likely better sources of information and can share their experiences (good and bad) with you. Your sports commission (if you’re leaving from your hometown) or the sports commission in the city you’ll be traveling to (if you’re going to fly there and need a bus once you’ve landed) can also be an excellent resource.
If you are looking on the Internet, make sure you take some time to read the testimonials for the various companies you are considering. You should be able to find online recommendations from individuals who have worked with a company; however, don’t forget to search out negative information as well. Look for a pattern in both the good and bad comments. What are you hearing over and over: that the driver was friendly and courteous, or conversely, that the bus was late to every pick-up? Keep an eye on those comments and factor them in when making your decision.
One comment that may not mean as much as you think concerns cost. The charter bus industry often hears people express surprise that buses are an investment. But remember that you’re factoring in a number of costs: the salary of a trained and experienced driver, fuel, mileage, tolls, wear and tear on the engine, insurance, etc. The cost of doing business in ground travel goes up each year, as it does in every other industry.
Once you have narrowed your choices, here are some questions to ask of prospective companies:
Will someone be available 24/7 to answer questions? If the company only has phone coverage between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, for example, it won’t help you much if the bus should break down after hours and a new one is needed immediately.
What year is the bus we’re going to be using? This is a very important question. Because motor coaches are so expensive, many see years of service. In fact, in some cases, a 10-year-old bus might be considered one of the newer models. You may want to specify that you want something built within the last five years if you want something very new (by bus industry standards). Newer equipment costs more, especially in peak travel season.
How many passengers can it hold? Mini-buses or mini-coaches can accommodate 20-30 passengers. Full size motor coaches will accommodate 49-57 passengers. Be sure to ask what type of vehicle the estimate is based on.
How much luggage space does it have? Where will luggage be stored? These are two of the most important questions you’ll ask. A large coach can hold about 70 average-sized bags – or an equivalent combination of bags and sports equipment. Be sure you talk to the bus company about exactly what your athletes are carrying: tennis racquets, ski equipment, javelin poles or anything else, in addition to their luggage. This absolutely will affect the type of vehicle you need and subsequently, your bottom line.
Sometimes, we’ll see a coach, team manager, parent or someone else try to book a minibus because it looks like a better deal. Word of warning: It’s not a better deal if you don’t have adequate luggage space – and depending on your sport and the duration of your trip, that smaller vehicle may not be suitable at all.
Do the buses have Wi-Fi and outlets? You’re going to want to specify both (particularly if you have a long trip coming up) since not only do people want connectivity when they travel with their devices, but they need to keep them charged. Ask this question in advance and you’ll be spared that complaint in your travels. Be aware that it may not come standard on all vehicles.
Does the bus have a restroom? This is not a given, so be sure to ask – and to request a bus with one if you are going to need it. It’s more common for this amenity to be found on larger motor coaches, but not all of those will have one. (And it’s very rare for it to be on a smaller vehicle, such as a minibus.) And remember: A bus restroom is essentially a portable toilet. It is not like the restroom you’d find in a restaurant.
Find out about insurance: Most buses carry a standard $5 million policy as mandated by the Department of Transportation.
Are we expected to pay for hotel accommodations for the driver? If it’s an overnight trip, most companies will expect the client to cover this cost.
Is a tip for the driver included in the price being quoted? Our company makes it a policy to include a small gratuity in the estimate; however, we also encourage people to tip the driver extra if they are impressed with his/her service.
What about fuel costs and tolls? That’s generally included in the price, at least where we’re concerned, but again, it’s essential to ask.
Do we pay for the driver’s meals? Should we ask him/her to join us for lunches and dinners? Many bus companies (ours included) will incorporate payment for the driver’s meals into the rate they’re charging you. You can certainly invite the driver to come to meals with you; it’s a nice gesture.
How many hours can a driver put in each day? A driver can put in 10 hours of straight drive time, and then he or she must be able to go off-duty for the day. With the advent of the e-log (a means for the motor coach company to track how long a driver is on the road), extra accountability and safety measures are in place.
How far in advance should we reserve our coach(es)? We can’t say it enough: book as soon as possible. There is no such thing as too much advance notice because bus companies receive multiple requests, particularly in high season.
There is actually a fairly limited supply of coach buses out there to meet the public’s demand. It’s why many companies own buses and contract out with other bus companies when more vehicles are needed. This is a fairly common practice in the industry.
Something to remember as well: If you will need a bus that is ADA-accessible, ask even further in advance. Also, even those wheelchair-accessible coaches have only two wheelchair spaces on the entire vehicle.
It’s hard to condense years of experience into one article, but those are the basics. Ask the right questions, make your plans well in advance and find a partner you can rely on. You’ll be on the road in no time. SDM