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January 08 www.bus-ex.com 59 CoachUSA for school districts in Wisconsin.” Coach USA charter and tour operations transport groups including professional sports teams and college and university students on external trips, as well as private groups either touring or attending special events. If you encounter British-style open-topped doubledecker buses in New York and Chicago, they will probably be operated by Coach USA companies. “Even in inclement weather, people who are visiting New York for three to four days want to take in as much as they can and they’re willing to spend twothree hours on an opentop bus.” Coach USA has around 5,000 full and part-time employees deployed to manage the peaks and troughs of the annual business cycle. The peak time for tourist operations is April to November; conversely, the schools are out from June to mid-August, so there’s no need for school drivers in that period. While most of the company’s operations are regional or community-based, it has a growing presence in the longer-distance market, which provides a different offer to traditional competitors. “We brought megabus.com to the US in April 2006 in the Midwest and it’s been very successful. It utilizes the Internet as the booking source and provides an express service, with seats starting at just $1 for early reservation,” said Moser. “We launched megabus.com services in California and the Southwest in August 2007 and it’s made a very satisfactory start.” Coach USA has a fleet totaling around 2,500 vehicles, including school and community services. As well as being presented in a pleasant and eye-catching style, the company pays close attention to every one of its vehicles, to ensure reliability and good service. “We have a fairly aggressive replacement cycle, so our coaches and buses are never more than a few years old,” he said. “We pretty much set the standard in our industry for how frequently we maintain our vehicles and bring them into the shop. We strive to reduce the likelihood of breakdown by catching any problems in advance; our parts replacement programs catch them ahead of failure.” The company is always looking for tools, technology and techniques to improve standards. “We’re putting pressure monitors on our tires that will give readouts if they lose pressure or run too hot or give other indicators prior to failure. Safety is always our number one priority,” he explained. “We work with designers and manufacturers, piloting and refining designs and go back to our coach OEMs—Van Hool in Belgium, Motor Coach Industries in Quebec, and Alexander Dennis of the UK—to get the improvements incorporated when we order another coach.” Coach USA’s biggest ongoing challenge is driver recruitment and retention. While there’s no shortage of trained and qualified drivers, not everyone enjoys being out on the road, interacting with people, possibly working irregular hours, and who can keep their cool while maneuvering a 56-foot vehicle through streets filled with cars, taxis, trucks and cyclists, and still get to the destination safely and on time. “We poll our customers through surveys and focus hard on meeting and exceeding expectations,” said Moser. “We use mystery shoppers to monitor, observe and listen to our customers with quality task forces. We’re enhancing our timetables to meet certain peak demands and investing in everything from handing out newspapers to commuters to selling videos on inter -city trips—things that separate us from other companies.” While America is a car -based culture, cities are investigating and investing in improved mass-transit services. New York has bus lanes running into Manhattan, for example. “With rising congestion, they have to look at alternatives,” said Moser. “If we can get 57 people out of their cars and onto a bus, it will reduce fuel demand, cut the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere and make our cities more livable. We are delivering a reliable, dependable service, offering great value for money and reducing the headaches of traveling. We expect that, in five years’ time, you’ll see a bigger Coach USA, with more services and more passengers. That’s where we’re headed.”