When crafting the perfect spring day trip to New York City, tour planners may consider booking the motorcoach an afterthought. That mistake could cost them the trip.
A 16-hour day trip to New York in the spring might seem a straightforward tour that planners could book last-minute. Yet because of seasonal availability and service hour limits, it is next to impossible. Motorcoach companies often spend considerable time explaining these types of restrictions.
“A lot of people don’t know about the motorcoach industry,” said Brandi Rigsby, sales administrator for Premier Transportation. “They don’t know about the regulations put in place for the driver. They have a lot of questions.”
Other group leaders, not knowing how to choose the right motorcoach company, simply select the least expensive one. This decision also might derail the trip if the group’s safety depends on an inexperienced driver.
Since transportation plays such an integral role during a tour, tour planners should understand the motorcoach industry’s services and limitations before selling an itinerary.
What’s the typical booking window for touring groups? It depends on whom you ask. Most organized group tours book around five to six months in advance, and some call the motorcoach company anytime between a year and a couple of weeks out.
Premier Transportation, a 46-motorcoach company with three east Tennessee locations, deals with a range of deadlines regularly.
“Groups are booking all over the board,” said Rigsby. “We have groups that are repeat customers that will book almost a year in advance. We have some that will call two weeks out and say, ‘I need to go somewhere.’ We try to be flexible and work with whatever time frame they have.”
Motorcoach companies strive to accommodate everyone. However, depending on availability, some group tours may be turned away.
“You can never book too early,” said Mark Dennis, director of sales and business development for First Class Charter. “Spring through the first part of summer and fall from September through November is when we sell out more. For instance, I have several dates in the spring that have already sold out — that far in advance. You have to plan your trip early.”
The family-owned Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, charter bus transportation service offers 11 motorcoaches, which are in demand with both leisure tour groups and student groups. Most motorcoach companies cater to both types of groups, which is why the two types of tours compete every spring for vehicle availability during peak senior trip season. School trips use motorcoaches instead of school buses for these longer trips, which is why the spring offers low availability and higher prices for transportation.
Know the Limits
When a charter bus company receives an itinerary proposal from a tour planner, the company representative will first look over the travel times to see if they comply with the federal Hours of Service rule. This 2012 law restricts consecutive driving hours of commercial drivers to prevent the No. 1 cause of accidents in the industry: fatigue.
Drivers of both trucks and motorcoaches can stay on duty only for 10 hours at a time within a 15-hour period before they are required to take an eight-hour break. By December 2017, the electronic logging device rule will require all commercial drivers to electronically track their hours to ensure they stay in compliance.
This impacts tour planning, since some proposed day trip itineraries might have to switch to an overnight to stay in compliance.
“We have found that the itineraries we get from customers tend to push the hours-of-service limit,” said Dennis. “It’s been an educational process. When we get an itinerary, we have to map it to make sure it can be done so we don’t go into violation. You must remember that there is more traffic on the road than there was five, 10 years ago. People tend to not take that into consideration.”
Planners using online mapping tools to calculate their travel time often forget to add potential traffic delays and rest stops. Motorcoach companies like Oneonta Bus Lines/Eastern Travel in Oneonta, New York, can not only point out the issues for those chartering one of their 12 motorcoaches, but also arrange the details of the trip, since a branch of the company acts as a travel agency. The company often uses this expertise when helping planners plot itineraries that stay within the limits of the law.
“The service hours limits are based on safety, which I completely support,” said Peggy Bush, general manager of the family-owned, 70-year-old company. “But they have changed the face of planning a tour because you have to take those limits into consideration. Sometimes, what the group wants to accomplish in a day, they can’t. We do everything on our end to help.”