A Guide to Chartering a Motorcoach
About Chartering a Motorcoach . . .
The Tennessee Motor Coach Association wants to make sure your group, club, or organization rides in safety and comfort during your next charter coach trip or tour and we hope this guide will help you make a inform discussion on chartering a Motorcoach.
Motorcoach travel remains the safest mode of transportation on our nations highways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show that motorcoach travel is 85% safer than any other form of transportation . In addition to safety, charter coach travel can offer senior citizens, schools, churches, fraternal clubs, and other groups the opportunity to travel together, to relax and enjoy the trip regardless of weather or traffic conditions, and save on fuel.
Federal Highway Administration Requirements
The Federal Highway Administration is responsible for the safety of all commercial vehicles registered to operate on federal highways. This includes motorcoaches and trucks , which are required to comply with stringent safety rules. To make sure they do, DOT inspectors continually conduct safety checks at garages, along the highways and at major tourism areas throughout the United States.
To legally operate a motorcoach the owners must comply with the DOT rules which are:
1 – Operating Authority – ICC numbers and DOT number
2 – Must carry Financial Responsibility – Either five million dollar per incident minimum liability policy or surety bond for public liability.
3 – Every carrier shall systematically inspect, repair and maintain all commercial vehicles under it’s control. In addition the vehicle must pass a complete mechanical inspection within the previous 12 months and will post a certificate of when and who performed the inspection. In addition the State of Tennessee Department of Safety will perform an inspection at the companies request and place a (CVSA) decal on the vehicles windshield.
4 – A motor carrier receives a safety rating when a safety specialist (DOT) conducts an one-site review on the carrier’s compliance with the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations. A copy of this rating should be available at your request. Some operators, however, may have not been rated by the USDOT. A new company may be in business several years before they receive a rating. The safety ratings are:
Satisfactory– The motor carrier is adequately meeting the requirements of the FHWA
Conditional– The motor carrier meeting most of the requirements of the FHWA
Unsatisfactory– The motor carrier is not meeting the requirements and should not be used.
*To check a company’s safety rating online, go to: www.safersys.org
5 – To operate a commercial motor vehicle a driver is required to have a commercial driver’s licenses “CDL’s” with the proper endorsements and must participate in the a drug and alcohol programs as required by the FHWA. The driver’s must also follow strict rules on hours of service.
But accidents do happen. Motorcoaches owned by private individuals or organizations tend to be most hazardous. These coaches are more attractive to charter and tour groups on a strict budget since they usually cost less to charter. But these coaches lack safety checks required of regulated coaches. Drivers of the coaches may not be skilled and experienced as commercial coach operators would be. Most importantly, the operator of these coaches in most cases do not carry adequate liability insurance to cover your group in the event of a serious mishap.
The next time your group is shopping around for motorcoach charter or tour service, match the coach company with the following information to get more from your trip and the most for your dollar.
If you are uncertain about the quality of your service, or have questions or complaints regarding service or safety, you can call the Tennessee Office of Federal Motor Safety at 615-781-5781 or the Tennessee Department of Commercial Safety 615-253-2264. For a list of qualified motorcoach operators that are a member of the Tennessee Motor Coach Association you can call 423-288-8622. We want your motorcoach trips to be enjoyable and safe.
What You Should Know Before You Charter a Motorcoach.
The first thing you must remember is that not all Motorcoach Companies are the same. They may offer different services and have different types of equipment . Some Companies are Charter Service only. This is where they will charter your group a motorcoach to take you to your destination only. Others provide Deluxe Charter Service or Tours. Here the company can help you in planning your trip and making your travel arrangements. This type of trip is also called packaged trips. Tours are pre-arranged trips that the motorcoach company sells per seat.
Motorcoaches are made by several manufacture’s and are equipped differently. A mini coach seats 24-27 passengers and some are equipped with restroom. The most widely used is a standard coach that seat 46 to 47 passengers and extended coach that seats up to 57 passengers.
Be sure that the motorcoach company has liability insurance and also has the authority to offer charter bus service. Many individuals, churches, organizations and companies are illegally offering charter service without authority and without proper insurance. So when checking into a motorcoach company do not be shy to ask for proof of insurance, DOT rating and ICC authority. A legal company will not hesitate to provide these things and most will offer these things up front. Also ask to visit the coach company to see what you are chartering. To keep a coach in top shape the company should have a maintenance program and facility . You should be wary of a coach that is just parked along the road or at someone’s home. Chances are they are not well maintained. So beware of illegal unlicensed motorcoach companies even if they are advertised in the newspaper or yellow pages.
Steps To Charter a Motorcoach
1 – Decide where you wish to travel to and when you plan to depart and return. Also get an idea what you would like to do and decide if you need help with accommodations, itinerary and arrangements. The more information you can provide the better they can help you.
2 – Make a list of motorcoach companies , check the yellow pages, check with your local Chamber of Commerce or call the Tennessee Motor Coach Association for a list in your area. Then you are ready to start calling.
3 – When you call give the company where the charter will originate, what your destination is, the date and possible departure time and return date, how many passengers you will have and what you plan to do. On longer trips over 620 miles you will need to let the company know if you are planning to stay overnight or drive straight through and if you will need transportation once you arrive. One driver can only drive 10 hours or 620 miles then he must have 8 consecutive hours off. On longer trips the company may need to relay drivers or have an additional driver on the coach. Also, let the company know about any side trips. If you do not inform the company of these trips they can refuse to take you or you will receive a bill for the additional miles. Most companies can give you a charter price quickly over the phone. If you want a deluxe charter it will take the company several days for them to make the necessary calls to hotel/motels, attraction and restaurants.
4 – Remember cheaper is not always better. Although it may be cheaper, you may be putting your group at risk. Underinsured and unauthorized charter coaches are cheaper to operate mainly because they do not maintain their coaches and use untrained, low paid drivers who may not be limiting the number of hours they drive and will not be drug and alcohol tested.
5 – When you made a decision on a company make sure you have the services that the company will provide documented in writing. This is called a charter order or contract. They should contain specifics like the departure date, type and size of equipment, the itinerary and the total charges. When you receive the contract be sure to check it carefully and provide the company with any needed information. Then sign the contract and return it promptly with a deposit if one is required. Always pay for the coach in advance and get a receipt. That way the company has a legal obligation to perform the services. If the coach does not show then you have a legal recourse against the owner. But if you do not pay in advance, then the owner has no legal obligation to perform the service and the chances of being “stood up” are much greater. Beware of bus owners who accept only cash. Bus owners without a certificate to offer charter service usually do not want to accept a check or offer you anything in writing.
6 – While on your trip remember the driver has Federal rules & regulations that they must follow on hours of service and mileage , so this is why the company will require an itinerary. Keep the company informed of any changes before the trip and be sure to clear all changes while on your trip with the driver to insure that he can legally handle it. Remember, the motorcoach operator is human. They will need to eat, sleep and have rest stops. Abused drivers are not happy drivers. If problems arises with the driver while on your trip do not hesitate to call the company and discuss it with the owner.
7 – Your responsibility as a group leader while on the coach is to see that your group remains quiet , orderly and that they do not damage the coach by sitting on arm rests, standing in seats or leaning backward over a seat. The coach should be kept clean and neat . This is the group responsibility, not the driver’s. Most companies will charge a group a clean up fee if the motorcoach returns excessively dirty and they will charge you for any damage to the coach. The restroom aboard coaches should be considered for emergency use only. Since the coach will make rest stops every several hours. The driver will get the restroom serviced when possible but dumping stations are not always available.
8 – When returning home the group leader should check the coach for cleanness, damage and items left by your group. Any items found by the coach company will be at the company’s office for persons to claim. The group leader should call the coach company and let them know how their trip went. If you have had problems discuss them. This is the only way the company can correct a situation also if you had a good trip , let them know. Let the company know how the driver performed . Some companies may have bonus programs for drivers that give good service.
Helpful Hints to Insure a Better Trip.
1 – Find out what the motorcoach company’s policy’s are concerning: food , drinks , gum , tobacco products, alcohol , radios, etc. Then go over this with your group prior to departure.
2 – Never allow more than one person to stand at a time while the coach is moving. At each stop the group leader needs to make sure everyone is aboard and then inform the driver when they are ready to depart.
3 – The driver is not responsible for chaperoning, disciplining or baby-sitting any of your group. His job is driving the motorcoach. If he needs help with directions or maps he will ask. During the trip you may need to talk with the driver while he is driving . Stay behind the white line and try to wait until he is out of heavy traffic.
4 – If you have a VCR equipped coach be sure to bring videos that are acceptable entertainment for your groups age and that the material is not offensive to any religious or ethnic group.
5 – Even the newest equipment may have problems. Be patient and understand that it may take some time for help to come. Let the driver take care of the problem. Being abusive to him does not help. A reputable company will take care of any problems the best and quickest way they possibly can and try not to inconvenience the group.
Help Make the Road Safer!
If you suspect that a motorcoach owner is offering charter bus service without proper authorization or has unsafe equipment call the Tennessee Department of Transportation (DOT) at 615-781-5781 or www.fmcsa.dot.gov
This information was compiled and published by the Tennessee Motor Coach Association (TMCA) for the distribution by it members to their customers. All operating members of the TMCA must have authority to operate motorcoaches , liability insurance, DOT rating of satisfactory or conditional, and sign a code of ethics to provide the highest standard of service to the traveling public in a professional manner. If you would like a list of TMCA members in your area call 423-288-8622