Chartering a Bus for Your Group

Whether you’re chartering a bus for a day trip or longer journey, it’s important that you be an informed consumer and know what questions to ask.

The charter bus industry is comprised of over 3,000 local and regional companies, so there’s lots of choices. Safety, quality, customer service and affordability are among the criteria in choosing the right company, and especially in the bus industry, the cheapest option is not always the best one.

You can go online and find motorcoach companies that serve your town or the flight arrival destination. Also check with fellow parishioners and community leaders to see what bus companies they have used.

It’s advisable to get price quotes from at least three companies and because of the variables involved, initial contact should be by phone. Ask each company to provide a written quote via fax or email. Local trips are typically priced by the hour, longer trips (averaging more than 300 miles a day) by the mile.

Once you have settled on a company, it’s advisable to reserve the coach as soon as possible, as spring and summer are high-demand periods. Like all commodity products, bus companies will sell out. But you before plunk down that deposit, perform your due diligence.

15 Questions to Ask a Prospective Bus Company

When dealing with a motorcoach company, ask these questions:

  • How long has your company been in business?
  • What is the average age of your fleet?
  • How many motorcoaches do you operate?
  • What about driver training and safety?
  • What is the passenger capacity of the buses available?
  • What onboard amenities are offered (i.e. restroom, video/audio equipment, tables, shades/curtains)? A public address system with a microphone is a must.
  • Are food and beverages allowed onboard?
  • What about taxes and additional charges? In most states there is no sales tax for chartering a bus. Companies may impose a fuel surcharge during periods of fuel price volatility.
  • Does the price include parking, tolls, driver’s tip or driver’s hotel room? The standard driver gratuity is 10%. You need to book the driver’s room, but for large groups the hotel often will comp the driver’s room.
  • Are there any additional charges I may be billed for following the trip?
  • How much of a deposit is required? The average deposit, according to busrates.com, is 22%, but it says the current trend is to require 100% payment upfront.
  • When is final payment due? Typically, it’s due 10 to 30 days before departure.
  • What is the cancellation policy? Most companies allow you to cancel without penalty up to 30 days before travel.
  • What is the procedure in the event of a breakdown? It’s advantageous to deal with a company that has a large enough fleet to replace your coach in case of serious problems.
  • How does the company handle a faulty air-conditioning unit or public address system?

Safety & Financial Concerns

A reliable motorcoach operator will be in compliance with government regulations. The American Bus Association (ABA) offers these guidelines:

  • Motorcoach companies must have federal operating authority if they cross any state or provincial lines, and should be able to offer you that proof, which is issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) or Transport Canada. Many states and provinces also require that a carrier obtain authority for interstate operations.
  • Ask for a current insurance certificate that provides a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance coverage.
  • Ask for the carrier’s U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number. Carriers are required to have the number clearly displayed. By using that five- or six-digit number, you can view the carrier’s safety and insurance information on the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website (www.safersys.org).
  • All U.S-based motorcoaches must be inspected annually. Ask the company about inspection and bus maintenance. Does the company have its own maintenance facility?
  • All U.S. drivers are required to have a current Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with a “passenger” endorsement printed on the license itself. CDLs are only issued after drivers have demonstrated their abilities through on-road skills and a knowledge test.

Long or quick-turnaround trips may require an extra driver to adhere to federal hours of service safety requirements. (Operators cannot drive more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off-duty.)

Ask if the operator is a member of any industry associations, such as ABA and United Motorcoach Association (UMA).

For customer service ratings on most bus companies, contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).

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