On the Road Again | Sports Destination Management

On the Road Again

Sep 05, 2023 | By: Joe Lucci

Concern over gas prices  and inconsistency in airline travel have resulted in more people than ever choosing bus transportation to take teams to and from events. Bus travel is enjoyable, far more relaxing than traveling by air and much easier to book. It also allows for a degree of flexibility you won’t find anywhere else.

For those who are new to the landscape of sports travel, here are a few things to know when you’re making arrangements.

Get the Right Kind of Bus

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Larger buses, known as coaches, can accommodate 50 to 55 passengers. Many have power outlets so that passengers can plug in their phones, tablets and other devices; however, not all will have this, so if this is important to you or your athletes, be sure to ask in advance.

A large coach can hold about 70 average-sized bags – or an equivalent combination of bags and sports equipment. As a rule of thumb, most athletes will travel with one to two bags, plus sports equipment. Be sure you talk to the bus company about exactly what your athletes are carrying, since bags containing ski equipment, football equipment (including helmets, shoulder and body pads), golf clubs or anything else will take up quite a bit of space. This absolutely will affect the type of vehicle you need and subsequently, will have an impact on your bottom line.

Large vehicles are a bigger investment, but they are far more practical than smaller options in the marketplace. Sometimes, for example, we’ll see a coach, team manager, parent or someone else try to book a shuttle or minibus (similar to those used to get airline passengers from parking lots to their terminals). Be aware that while such a vehicle may carry a lower price tag, it seats fewer people and may not have adequate luggage space. 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.

Think Ahead When Planning Bus Travel

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. Know in advance the distance you plan to travel, and plan appropriately. If overnight stays need to be built in, make your reservations. (Note: If an overnight stay is required, the client is responsible for paying for a room for the bus driver as well.)

Put in the Time to Look for a Good Company

Do not pick a coach company at random from the Internet. Any web search will bring up a vast number of companies, most of whom have 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 (we’ll cover this in a minute). 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 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 before you sign on the dotted line (or, more accurately, click “Accept”):

• If something goes wrong, does the company have someone available 24/7 to answer questions and solve problems? 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 an especially 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). Be aware, though, that the newer equipment costs more, especially in peak travel season.

• 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 and hotel room? This will vary according to the bus company you are using and the type of trip you are taking; be sure to ask in advance so that neither you nor the driver is caught unaware.

• How far in advance should we reserve? We can’t say this enogh: 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 need a bus that is ADA-accessible, ask even further in advance. Remember that wheelchair-accessible coaches have only two wheelchair spaces on the entire vehicle. Should you expect to have a higher number of athletes who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices, plan accordingly.

What Affects the Cost of a Bus?

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Several forces are at work when it comes to the amount you pay in order to reserve a bus, outside of the typical supply and demand that are often cited. Costs are influenced by some of the following, and they affect companies across the service spectrum.

Driver Shortages: The pandemic changed transportation. Many drivers chose to retire, and others moved toward different disciplines, rather than staying idle. Some began driving for Amazon or FedEx, for example, making them essential workers and keeping them employed. Now that charter bus travel is back, there are fewer drivers, which has meant that companies are paying their employees more (an incentive to not just take a position but keep it).

Fuel Prices: If you drive a car, you’re aware that it costs more to buy gas than it did previously. And while prices have moderated some, they’re still higher than they were.

Insurance Rates: Insurance, required of every commercial vehicle, has gone up. (Even private car insurance has increased, so this is not exactly a surprise.) Most buses carry a standard $5 million policy as mandated by the Department of Transportation.

Maintenance: There has been an increase in the cost of parts and labor to keep buses on the road and safely moving back and forth. Yes, it is an expense, but it is most definitely worth it.

2020 and the subsequent years that saw decreased travel are in the rear-view mirror. The road ahead looks bright. SDM

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