Last year, COVID was the biggest bracket-buster and game-changer our industry has ever faced and it’s safe to say there wasn’t a vendor anywhere who was unaffected. Now, with a vaccine in place, we’re moving forward again – but with the shadow of the virus variant present, we are still taking all the necessary precautions.
But while some things have changed – and drastically – some remain the same. The importance of choosing the right company, and of asking all the right questions, for example, will always be there. And asking those questions in advance (not as you’re getting ready to board the bus) is essential.
How many people can a bus hold?
While we all know larger buses can accommodate 50 to 55 passengers, many companies during the pandemic had rules in place for social distancing, which meant people often needed to reserve larger vehicles, or sometimes more vehicles, to accommodate passengers in accordance with health regulations. Most commercial companies have been able to put an end to social distancing, but when making your reservations for transportation, be sure to ask in advance anyway.
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, such as bags containing tennis racquets, ski equipment, football equipment (including helmets, shoulder and body pads), golf clubs 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 shuttle or 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. Remember too, those small vehicles do not have restrooms – and if you have a long trip ahead of you, that will be a source of complaints.
What kind of precautions are required?
While we now have a vaccine and are more knowledgeable about the virus and how it is transmitted than we were last year, bus companies are still taking measures to lower the risk to passengers and drivers.
In many cases, passengers will need to wear masks, in compliance with health regulations. (Obviously, if this is a concern, you should ask any potential transportation company up front about their requirements). The driver, 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.
If masks are required, 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 generally also have hand sanitizers in restrooms. 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 shuttle or minibuses, behind the back row of seats) will still be used; like passenger areas, they will be disinfected between uses.
Finding the best company
Put in the time to ask important questions, rather than picking a coach company at random from the Internet. Any web search will bring up a huge number of coach companies boasting toll-free numbers and online ways to get a quote immediately. Remember that any 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. However, if you are concerned about cost variance, ask in advance whether the price is subject to change – and by how much.
Your colleagues in the industry are often the best source you can find when it comes to getting ideas about which company to hire (and which not to hire). The local sports commission where you’re based (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 will need bus transportation once you’ve landed) can also be an excellent resource.
Here are some additional questions to ask:
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 breaks down after hours.
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? 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.
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? Many bus companies (ours included) will incorporate payment for the driver’s meals into the rate they’re charging you.
How many hours can one driver put in? 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? We can’t say this 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.
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.
Last year, when I addressed this subject, I was hoping the pandemic would be a thing of the past by 2021. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but we now have a vaccine and we’re far more knowledgeable. We’re also moving forward – and that’s the right direction. SDM