Selecting the Right Bus for Your Parking Operation
Jeff Shank and Robert Jones
Transportation services are playing a greater role in everyday operations at airports, hotels, colleges and universities nationwide. These services are helping travelers get to their flights, guests to their beds, students to classes and sports teams to away games.
Buses and motorcoaches are an extension of your primary business. As such, the vehicles you purchase may have an impact on efficiency, usage frequency and overall customer satisfaction.
Here are some tips to get an A+ on your next new bus purchase:
How will you use the bus?
Shuttle services are similar to transit fixed-route schedules, transporting your customers to the airport from parking facilities and hotels or throughout campus, shopping and housing. These trips are usually short, and buses may need to be loaded and unloaded quickly. Small to mid-size buses frequently meet these needs.
Travel/tour services are longer trips that may last all day or several days. Motorcoaches and buses, which are equipped for long hours of travel, are typically used. Companies and universities that don't own coaches for this purpose will often charter these from area tour companies.
What are your passenger needs?
Passenger capacity (total number of passengers at one time, seated or standing).
Frequency (how often a shuttle will move X-number of people in Y-amount of time).
Number of buses to meet the objective (accurately identifying the size and frequency will help calculate how many buses are required).
Passenger carry-ons (briefcases, backpacks, shopping bags or luggage).
Length of ride (longer trips require more comfortable seats, greater leg room and other options, including tray tables, foot rests, individual lighting and Internet access).
Effective heating/cooling, especially in areas with extreme climate.
Which bus best meets your needs?
Small buses -- Versatile buses that use a commercial bus door are about 22 feet in length, with a passenger capacity of 12. These can be ideal for shuttle services or for special-needs applications when equipped with a wheelchair lift.
Small to mid-size cutaway buses -- These typically are a truck- or van-based chassis, with a cab and body that are 20 to 28 feet in length, and with a passenger capacity of 13 to 25. These are primarily suited for airport shuttle use, but can be loaded with luxury options for traveling.
Mid-size transit-style buses -- These are approximately 29 to 35 feet in length, with a passenger capacity up to 37 (more with standees). For greater accessibility, many are available with a low-floor design, multiple doors and a kneeling feature. They are best-suited to airport, hotel and campus shuttle operations.
Motorcoaches -- Typically 45 feet in length, with a passenger capacity of up to 58, these are built specifically for longer trips with a baggage compartment under the passenger cabin. Coaches are available with many options, including reclining seats, audio/video entertainment systems and electrical power outlets.
How accessible should your bus be?
Easy access is paramount for three reasons: customer comfort, safety and efficiency. Low-floor buses can greatly improve loading and unloading times, which helps keep buses on schedule. High-floor buses have more steps and a greater distance from the ground to the first step, which may make boarding more difficult for passengers with special needs, for seniors or for those carrying bulky luggage. Many small and mid-size buses are available with a kneeling capability, which lowers the bus to create an easier step-in height. Motorcoaches are offered with kneeling features, but not low floors.
If your bus will be used for handicapped or passengers with special needs, it must be ADA compliant. Many high-floor buses offer wheelchair lifts, while low-floor buses typically use a ramp with the kneeling feature. Ramps are also ideal for elderly passengers and parents with strollers.
Evaluate life-cycle cost vs. purchase price
The best way to determine the true value of a bus is to review life-cycle costs. Such costing considers all the variable costs for the lifetime or expected operating life of the vehicle. These costs, in addition to the capital costs of the purchase or lease, include fuel efficiency, scheduled maintenance and life expectancy of components, as well as fixed costs such as administration and insurance.
* Evaluating the life-cycle costs of a vehicle can also help determine operating budgets. In the long run, the least expensive vehicle may actually cost more than its competitors when all factors are considered.
Never buy without a test drive
This is your opportunity to see how well the bus performs under your unique operating conditions. Take into account all of the points above, including its ability to maneuver efficiently and safely. This is particularly true for airport parking operations with the need to move up and down tight aisles. But don't feel limited to purchasing a smaller bus. Today's mid-size buses and coaches can often maneuver better than their smaller counterparts.
Test several vehicles of varying size and features to identify the bus that best meets your needs. Following these guidelines should ensure satisfaction with your bus or coach for years to come.
Jeff Shank is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses. Robert Jones is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Setra of North America. They can be reached through www.dcbusna.com.
Article Abstract from February, 2005