When my children were in elementary school, they had a bus driver named Mr. Ernie. While most drivers recognize that young children have some anxiety around these first school experiences- particularly riding the bus- Mr. Ernie was not so enlightened. He greeted each bright-eyed, smiling child with a curmudgeonly scowl and a loud “sit daahhn” in his best Pittsburghese. It was only on the last day of school that his irritable veneer was replaced with something vaguely resembling a smile.
Fortunately, the Mr. Ernies of this world are few and far between, and if you travel with students, motorcoaches are an exceptional transportation option. The American Bus Association (ABA) noted in its 2014 census that students account for 24.4% of motorcoach passenger travel. There are lots of excellent reasons for this!
Planning student travel can be a pricey endeavor. However, traveling by motorcoach can help decrease costs. Unlike air travel or other ticketed travel, each student typically shares in the total cost of motorcoach transportation. The more passengers in each seat until the bus is full, the lower the cost per traveler.
Many of today’s motorcoaches run on blends of ultra-low sulfur or biodiesel fuel, making them energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Each motorcoach has the potential to replace 55 cars on the highway- that’s definitely doing some great green work!
Groups can sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride comfortably while someone else does the driving. Students can socialize or use the time to connect on social media (sigh!) since many motorcoaches are now equipped with WiFi.
Safety is arguably the most important component of choosing a motorcoach for student travel. Statistics presented by the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) note that travelers in 1994 were 1,097 times more likely to experience an accident in a car than aboard a motorcoach. However, it is imperative that you do your homework and find a reputable carrier with a solid safety track record.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) encourages travelers to “Look Before You Book” by examining the safety record of your motorcoach company. To that end, the UMA has created a safety checklist to help determine if the company is reputable and safe. Highlights include
1. USDOT Identification Number – Ask the company for their USDOT ID number and search www.safersys.org for rule violations, accidents, etc.
2. Insurance – Verify that the company has current insurance coverage ($1.5 million for 15 passengers or less vehicles and $5 million for more than 15 passengers)
3. Drivers – Verify that the carrier’s drivers have all appropriate licenses (all drivers must have a CDL issued by the state)
4. Hours – Confirm that the trip can be completed within “hours of service.” Under federal law, commercial bus and motorcoach drivers may not drive for more than 10 hours a day or at all after being on duty for 15 hours. Requiring periods of rest/sleep for the drivers helps ensure the safety of passengers and the general public
5. Equipment – Always ask about the equipment to be used on the trip! Vans have been deemed unsafe for extended student travel by both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Motorcoaches should be in good condition and serve the purposes of the group
6. Emergencies – Request a copy of the company’s policies and procedures for emergencies or breakdowns
These are valuable tips when planning to travel with students and really give clarity to what could be a difficult decision. Most of us don’t know much about buses beyond our experiences with the Mr. Ernies in our lives. It’s important to educate ourselves to ensure the very best travel for our students- and safety is key!