Tough Times at Airports Make Shuttles More Popular than EverMore people are using shuttle buses than ever before.
As the need for parking facilities and shuttle buses increases, service providers are doing more for their customers and expecting more from the equipment they choose.
Airports are one area of the shuttle bus market that has expanded and changed dramatically in the last two years. National security, congestion and consolidation are some of the factors that are creating this change.
At many airports, national security has required closing short-term parking operations located near airport terminals. This has placed a higher demand on convenient off-site and remote lots previously not fully utilized. The change in traffic flow has created opportunities for airports and parking lot operators to review their operations, and in some cases, increase their shuttle bus service intervals and add buses to their fleets.
Congestion is always an issue at larger airports and they are continually looking for ways to reduce traffic and make the passenger drop-off and pick-up experience a pleasant one. To address these concerns, airports are looking for innovative parking solutions and customer-oriented shuttle service providers to help them ease the congestion and provide positive experiences for their air-traveling customers.
In addition, the consolidation of rental car businesses has created counter space in airports for "non-traditional" rental car companies to stake a claim in the convenient on-airport counter service.
Several rental car businesses have consolidated companies and their remote lots, creating a higher demand for larger shuttle vehicles with increased passenger capacity to support the consolidated service.
All of these factors continue to drive new demand for shuttle bus providers.
Shuttle buses play a critical role in the operation and success of parking facilities. They deliver an important service to customers and serve as the company's calling card to customers and prospects.
For many customers your shuttle bus is the first impression they will have of your business. What do your buses say about your company? Are they on time, clean, comfortable, easy to board, have enough room for storing luggage, and easy to recognize?
"Our buses are very important -- as a way to best serve our customers and as a brand icon," said Kevin Shrier, executive vice president of The Parking Spot. "We only have a short time -- from the parking lot to the airport -- to make a good impression with our customers."
Graphics and custom paint schemes are also important to set your service apart and ensure individuality from other shuttle operators. Creative graphics can build brand awareness and identity for your company in a cost-effective way. At The Parking Spot, buses are painted a sunny yellow with large black dots.
"The spotted shuttles work like mobile billboards for us. By creating a highly memorable and easily recognized graphic treatment utilizing bold black spots, customers think of The Parking Spot when they see the shuttles," said Mark Wildman, vice president of marketing at The Parking Spot.
"They don't even have to see the brand name. There is no more effective way to reach air travelers, our prospective customers, than by delivering our message in a highly memorable way at the airport. In addition, the highly visible design enhances our service," Wildman added.
As an added benefit, some parking operators offer special services to their customers, including free newspapers, online reservations and passenger drop offs at their car rather than a centralized location. Another opportunity to present customers with the highest level of service and comfort is by operating a bus that is easy to board and offers plenty of storage, comfortable seating, temperature-controlled interior and a smooth and quiet ride.
The right bus
While operators strive to make their customers' parking experience easier, manufacturers are looking for ways to make buying buses simpler too.
One should take into consideration chassis load limits with anticipated weight of passengers, door cycles, luggage requirements and seating preferences. Shuttle packages are custom fitted with proven air conditioning and heating systems engineered to withstand the grueling test of shuttle service.
Purchasing a shuttle bus for a parking operation is a long-term investment. It is crucial to the success of any parking business to operate vehicles that meet the rigorous performance demands of continuous service while maintaining customer comfort and satisfaction. In addition to the vehicle price, consider the cost of operating the bus through its service life, including fuel efficiency, service and maintenance intervals, and proven components.
At the end of the day, your customers' experience on the shuttle bus may determine whether they use your services again or seek out your competition.
Jeff Shank is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses.
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Things to consider when buying
If you are planning on purchasing a booth, you should work with a company with considerable experience. This will ensure you are getting a "time tested" product. In addition, almost every city in the U.S. now has some sort of license regulations for prefabricated products, so make sure your booth manufacturer is aware of these regulations, and has the proper credentials to supply booths in your area.
For parking applications, make sure your manufacturer is aware of the revenue control equipment you plan on installing in the booth. With today's sophisticated equipment, a booth should easily be able to ergonomically accept all of the equipment, provide ample shelf and cabinet space, cutouts and framing for fee computers, and/or hands-free ticket validation and electrical provisions for data and communications.
For security applications, make sure your manufacturer takes into account the climate in your area and provides options for items that will provide for a more comfortable environment. Additionally, make sure your manufacturer is up to date on all of the latest bullet-resistant materials available to provide the highest levels of protection at the best prices.
Finally, make sure your manufacturer can provide booths that complement your architecture. Gone are the days of the simple rectangular cashier or security shack. Booths are now part of the overall design intent created by architects and building owners.