With the possible exception of the roads buses are traveling, the entire landscape of ground transportation, from decision-making on how many buses are needed, to knowing how far in advance to plan, to understanding the set-up of buses, has altered dramatically.
Since last year, when we addressed the subject, there have been multiple changes, all brought to you courtesy of the coronavirus. (Remember how you used to be concerned only with fuel costs, whether there was a rest room and how much to tip? Those were the days). The importance of choosing the right company, and of asking all the right questions, has not changed either – but the questions, and as a result, the company you pick, has changed. And since this is our scenario for the foreseeable future, it is best to work within the parameters so that you (and your participants) have the best experience possible.
More Space, Fewer People
Make plans in advance of your event – even further than you would have before. You will need more buses because of the need for social distancing. A group of 25 people, for example, will need a 50 or a 55-passenger bus. Seats between individuals, and sometimes entire rows, will be blocked off, to allow for more space between passengers. Therefore, it will be incumbent upon the event owner to opt for larger vehicles and to make sure maximum numbers of passengers are adhered to. Families who are traveling together (and thus who have been exposed to one another in the long-term) will still be able to sit together, but you’ll still need twice as much transit space as before.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Passengers will need to wear masks, in compliance with health regulations. The driver (who, in some cases, will be separated from the passengers by a piece of plexiglass; if you want to make sure you have a driver who is physically separated, ask in advance when chartering the bus as not all lines are the same) will most assuredly be wearing one as well. Make sure your athletes, their families and guests (and anyone riding on the bus) are aware of this mandate. (If necessary, you as an event owner may want to keep a limited supply of masks on each bus, in order to provide everyone with protection).
Buses also have hand sanitizer stations. Passengers boarding the bus, as well as those disembarking, should use these stations. It is particularly important if passengers have been moving luggage into racks, opening tray tables and connecting to the Wi-Fi network on the bus.
While individuals are encouraged to stay in their seats during the trip, some bus lines will consider the rest room a communal space and close it, while others will not. Make sure to check any bus line’s protocol, and to pass this information along to your passengers. In some cases, it may make the difference in which bus company you select for your travels.
All buses will be disinfected between trips; generally, this is accomplished by using a fogging spray. The goal is to try to lower, as much as possible, the risk of transmission of disease.
Cargo areas (the space underneath the bus or, in the cases of shuttles, behind the back row of seats) will still be used; however, like passenger areas, they will be disinfected between uses. Always ascertain that you have the correct amount of cargo space for the sport you are hosting since some sports may be more equipment-heavy than others and may require more space.
With these facts in your mind, it’s time to start looking for a bus service for your event. Here are a few best practices to employ and questions to ask.
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).
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. Remember also to make sure the company you’re working with is operating with smart health practices.
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.
Do the buses have Wi-Fi and outlets? Be aware that these may not come standard on all vehicles.
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. This may become even more important with social distancing, so be sure to make the appropriate arrangements in advance.
It’s hard to condense years of experience into one article and even harder to try to give a synopsis of post-COVID measures, 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