What do you need know before you book a bus?
We went straight to several leading industry sources – The American Bus Association, the International Motor Coach Group, and the United Motorcoach Association – to find out what consumers should know before they book. Here’s a list of 13 questions to get you started. As with any important transaction, never sign on the dotted line until all of your questions have been answered to your satisfaction.
1. How long have you been in business?
- Every business has to start somewhere, but it’s nice to know that the company has been around long enough to have logged a few miles.
- An established company has a track record, experience, and a reputation to uphold – all good things.
- Ask for references.
2. Do you use your own buses or are you a broker?
- Be sure you know who you’re dealing with. Some so-called charter bus companies are actually brokers who subcontract your trip through another company for a commission. They do not own or operate the vehicles.
- Ask about the size of the fleet, the age of the vehicles, and the types of buses available.
- Ask about amenities.
3. May I come look at your vehicles?
- A visit to the company’s headquarters or maintenance facility can give you a sense of its corporate culture and way of doing business. Seeing the actual vehicles can help you choose one or, at the very least, put your mind at ease about their condition and cleanliness.
- A reputable charter company should welcome you to visit their facility. Any hesitation or evasiveness on this issue could be a red flag.
- Confirm that when you choose a coach, you’ll actually get that coach (or one just like it) on the day of your charter.
4. How often is the equipment maintained and inspected?
- Make sure the company follows a regular maintenance schedule and that it meets or exceeds all safety and inspection requirements of both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the company’s home state.
- Ask for proof that the vehicle you will be using has passed a complete mechanical inspection within the last 12 months.
- Confirm that the company conducts a pre-trip equipment check before each and every run. Feel free to ask what that equipment check entails.
- Ask if they have their own maintenance facility.
5. What are your safety policies and procedures?
- Ask for proof of a satisfactory safety rating with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
- Make sure the company follows FMCSA’s pre-trip passenger safety messaging requirements. (They should play a video or audio recording or make a safety announcement before pulling out.)
6. Do all of your drivers have commercial drivers’ licenses?
- Ask about the company’s driver training program.
- Confirm that your driver will posses a valid, current commercial driver’s license (or CDL) with Passenger Endorsement at the time of your trip.
- Be sure the company does drug and alcohol testing.
- Confirm that the company complies with DOT’s Hours-of-Service (HOS) Regulations.
7. Are you fully insured?
- A charter bus company that transports 16 or more passengers must carry a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance.
- Don’t hesitate to ask to see the company’s insurance certificate.
8. What happens in the event of a break down or other emergency?
- Find out if the company has 24-hour dispatch and whether you can reach a live person at all hours of the day or night.
- Ask about the company’s contingency plan. Established companies often are affiliated with national professional associations and can call upon member companies in the event of a mechanical breakdown or emergency.
9. Can you accommodate our special needs?
- If you need wheelchair access, or a bilingual bus driver, or some other accommodation, now is the time to make your requirements known.
- Ask if the company can guarantee these accommodations for the day of your charter.
10. Will you be switching drivers or vehicles during our trip?
- If your itinerary extends beyond the driver’s allowable 10 hours of behind-the-wheel time, the driver must be relieved. Find out if the relief driver is an employee or subcontractor.
- If the company will be switching buses, find out if the replacement bus belongs to the company or to a subcontractor; ask if it will be identical to the first bus.
- Ensure that any subcontracted driver or company can also provide satisfactory answers to each of your checklist questions.
11. What is included in the price quote?
- Find out: how many miles (or hours) are included in a full day’s price; what constitutes excess miles (or hours); and how any excess miles or hours will be billed.
- Ask if you will be expected to pay extra if your trip is extended due to traffic delays or weather conditions.
- Ask if the rental quote include tolls, parking, entrance fees, permits, and other costs? If not, find out how these expenses will be handled.
- For overnight trips, ask who arranges and pays for the driver’s food and lodging.
12. What about the driver’s gratuity? What is customary, and how is it handled?
- Drivers usually get anywhere from $1.00 per passenger to 15% of the booking fee.
- Insider tip: Drivers bid on some jobs. If you like your driver – and if your driver likes you – you can request that same driver in the future, and he or she can bid on your group’s trip.
13. What are your payment policies?
- Ask how much deposit you have to put down and when.
- Inquire about their refund and cancellation policy.
- Be sure you know when final payment is due.
Choosing a charter bus company is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Use these questions – and add your own – to book a bus that’s right for you.
For a free copy of our comprehensive Guide, click on the image below.