When it comes to sports travel, bus transportation is the first thing that comes to most people’s minds. After all, riding on the team bus (or even the booster club bus) is probably a huge part of the high school memories for many people who participated in sports – or just cheered them on. So now that you’re planning travel, you are in search of a bus service that can provide good, safe, efficient, comfortable and affordable movement of athletes – and allow them to make those same memories.
These days, asking for a quote on bus travel is easier than ever, thanks to the Internet. Many companies will have toll-free phone numbers, or even a section on their website you can use to specify where you need to go, when, for how many people and for how long, in exchange for a no-obligation quote on services. However, once you get that quote – or even while you’re evaluating the company – you’ll want to know exactly what you’re getting in exchange for your money. Here are some questions to ask.
What year is the bus we’re going to be using? This is a very important question. Because motor coaches are so expensive (generally costing between $200,000 and $600,000 each, and possibly even higher), many buses see a lot of 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). Please be prepared to pay a premium for newer equipment during 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? This is one of the most important questions you’ll ask. Depending upon the duration of their trip and the sport they’re participating in, athletes may have quite a bit of cargo that needs to be moved from place to place. 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 underneath the passenger compartment – and depending on your sport, that smaller vehicle may not be suitable at all. Always check on what you’re getting – passenger space and luggage space – in relation to the price.
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 this may coast you a little more, however, and that it may not come standard on all vehicles.
As a side note, it’s important to remember that bus connectivity is only as good as the service provider. If you’re savvy enough, have a few people on the bus turn their phones into hot spots for better reception.
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 rest room is essentially a portable toilet. It is not the same experience as the type of restroom you’ll find in a restaurant. The smell of restrooms on a bus is often a source of complaints among passengers, but the driver can’t do much to change that situation; rest room pumps have to be performed in accordance with federal dumping guidelines, so it’s not something that can be done easily when you’re traveling from one location to another and trying to get somewhere by game time.
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. Be sure to tell the bus company if you’re planning an overnight (or multi-night) trip.
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? 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 include payment for the driver’s meals in the rate they’re charging you. You can certainly invite the driver to come to meals with you; it’s a nice gesture.
What about tolls? That’s another item that should be standard (along with fuel). Our cost, for example, includes tolls and fuel, as well as meals and a small gratuity for the driver.
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.
How far in advance should we reserve our coach(es)? This varies by customer. Some people will book six months to a year in advance but the rule of rule of thumb is 60 days. Keep in mind, though, that the price you’re quoted may vary a bit from what you actually pay, due to fluctuations in the cost of fuel. That may be even more pronounced if you book further out.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be booking in advance, though. 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.
Good bus service is generally more affordable than flying, but it is still an investment. After all, ground transportation companies are trying to cope with a limited supply of drivers – and good, experienced drivers aren’t cheap – and to balance the costs of fuel, insurance and more. If you’re budget-conscious, we can help work with you and guide you to an option you may find more affordable – it might be an older vehicle, for example. It’s impossible to put a top-of-the-line vehicle on the road at a budget price unless, of course, you’re traveling during an off-season. In addition, remember that certain days of the week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) are periods of higher demand and may therefore carry a higher price tag.
In this day and age, it’s easy to look at the customer reviews people have posted online, so you can always try that when it comes to learning more about a company. However, it may be more helpful (and probably far more accurate) to actually speak with someone who has worked with that bus company before. Something you’ll need to have with the bus company you choose is trust: they should be able to listen to what you want to do, and then help guide you to the right mode of transportation to give you a winning experience from the time to you leave home until the time you return. SDM