What’s a party bus?

There are few terms on the Internet that are more confusing than “party bus.” If you sat in a room with 20 people and asked them to describe what a party bus is, what it looked like, and what you do with one, you would get 20 different answers. As the most searched for bus term on the web, there are definitely a lot of interpretations of what someone is looking for when they type it into google or ask Siri.

The first thing that needs to be straightened out is that there is a major difference between what bus companies think of when they hear party bus and what the average consumer thinks of.

What bus operators think a party bus is:

Limo… bus… where people go to party… Basically that sums it up.

(Photo of the interior of a party bus here)

A lot of traditional bus operators know the above style of bus as a party bus. Most traditional operators do not run this type of equipment, because it has historically been… well, an issue. From drunk frat parties to cleaning crews having to spend crazy amounts of time cleaning unimaginable messes up after a night out, traditional charter fleet operators have shifted away from this type of equipment. Pair that with increasing challenges with commercially insuring this type of vehicle and the vast majority have bowed out. However, these vehicles are still available in many markets like more traditional limo operators (who are also on busrates.com) and are a lot of fun.

If the above picture is not what you think of when you say party bus, you are not alone! A lot of consumers think that party buses are any of the below vehicle types.

 

What bus operators call charter buses, mini buses, motorcoaches, and even executive coaches, many consumers think of as party buses.

The reason this distinction is important is because sometimes translation can stand in the way of someone getting what they want.

Picture Jim. Jim has been tasked with getting the “party bus” for his family reunion to take everyone to surprise grandma at the bingo hall and then go to the beach for the afternoon.

Jim picks heads to BusRates finds an operator in Grandma’s home town and gives them a call.

“Thanks for calling Sea Shore Charters, how can I help you”

“ Hi, I need to see if you have a party bus available on July 24th and how much it would cost?” Jim says.

“Sorry, we don’t do party buses.”

“Oh, but I was on your site and saw…” he responds before getting cut off…

“We don’t have any party buses, we don’t run that type of equipment.”

“Oh… ok… thanks” Jim says before hanging up, confused.

The truth is that what Jim wanted, Sea Shore Charters has, but there was confusion.

Knowing what you really want, and what bus companies call them, will help you make sure you are not like Jim… because lets face it, no one wants to be like Jim!

Click here to see all the types of equipment available on busrates.com and what each vehicle is called!

How to Crowdsource a transportation event.

Bus travel is the most affordable way to move a large group. Period… but that does not make it any more or less challenging to deal with the question about who is the one who is going to actually sign the contract and put their credit card down on the “table.”

Imagine a group of friends who are looking to head to a concert or festival. Maybe your family is having a reunion and you want to go on a tour of all the places from grandma’s life. Perhaps you area soccer parent trying to coordinate the bus for the team and  their families to head to the out-of-town tournament. Having one person responsible  for the entire fee can be a daunting commitment, but there are options and we are here to help.

Option #1

Sometimes simplicity is the key. Sending and receiving money has never been easier. From services like Venmo to PayPal andFacebook to Apple Chat, sending money to someone is simple and fast. Simply break the total transportation cost into a per seat or per person fee based on the quote and get people to pay before the actual booking. Keep in mind that most companies require a deposit before the charter can be booked, so doing this far enough in advance so that you do not run the risk of not being able to book once you are ready is important.  Hey, as long as you are at it, charge a few bucks for your time in coordinating… maybe you will not end up having to pay anything because you coordinated for the group!

Option #2

The GoFundme.com route: Traditionally crowdsourced services like gofundme.com are thought about when raising money for nonprofits and charitable organizations, but they are, at their core, a tool for a group of people to come together and raise money for an end… even transportation costs. From small groups wanting to put together a night out on the town to a road trip to Disney for a group of 100 students, this tool lets you gather money from those interested in going. When using this, simply start a “campaign” on the funding site,  send out the information that they can donate to the cause, and that the cost is X dollars per person to participate. Simple as that, you are on your way to a crowdsourced trip.

Option #3

PayPal Money Pool. A relative newcomer to the group payment model, but one of the pioneers in the online money game, PayPal now offers a way for people to collect money for a common goal. Simple and effective, this will give you and your group a fast way to get this done. Set a total amount you need to gather, how much each person needs to contribute, and the date it needs to happen by.  See the video below for more information.

Understanding the FMCSA safety rating system

Getting the Real Scoop on Bus Operators

BusRates.com was designed to help charter-seeking customers book directly with their local operators. By booking directly with local operators, the customer can avoid commissions imposed by brokers, agents, or “specialists,” and ensures that the customer’s requests and trip details are communicated directly to the service provider; lessening the chance that itineraries get lost, mixed-up, or wrong altogether through third-party communication.

“But how can I tell if my local operators are safe? How do I determine if they are in good standing and approved for interstate passenger transportation?”

BusRates.com provides all the necessary information for you to verify pertinent details concerning operator safety, authority, and status. The following is a helpful “how-to” guide in obtaining and understanding the available data on file for all motor coach carriers.

“Where Do I View Safety Records, Status and Authority?”

After performing a search for charter bus operators near your desired departure area on BusRates.com, scroll through the results and you will notice that we list the USDOT number for each company immediately below their name and address. Underneath their USDOT number is a link to their Licensing & Insurance (L&I) information.

Give the USDOT number a click and you’ll find that each USDOT number links directly to the posted company’s Company Snapshot at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website. If you’re looking for the nitty-gritty details on an operator, this is the area to find them.

“Does the USDOT FMCSA SAFER System catalogue operator safety, status, and authority?”

Yes it does, however, keep in mind that the SAFER website was not designed for the public, so navigating and interpreting its information can be daunting at first. That said, if you stay with us, we’ll walk you through the most important things to know.

BusRates.com’s Guide to the Company Snapshot

The Company Snapshot on the FMCSA’s SAFER website is divided into five key areas that we’ll be examining. Each area has information that will help you decide if the company meets your requirements. The five main areas we’ll be looking at will be:

1. ID/Operations
2. Inspections/Crashes
3. Safety Rating
4. Licensing & Insurance
5. Safety Measurement System

The following breakout of these five items will assume a streamlined approach to provide you with a general overview of areas of interest and items to examine. If you require further details, the FMCSA does provide a glossary of all terms.

1) ID/Operations

The ID/Operations area is the first large box-out you will see when viewing the Company Snapshot. This area lists identifying information about the operator, including the legal name, address and phone.

Operating Status: This should say either “Registered” (for interstate travel) or “Active” (for intrastate travel only).
BusRates.com only lists Registered/Active companies. If you encounter a company that has lost its operating status, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

Power Units: This is the number of vehicles the operator owns as of the MCS-150 Form Date. This number only includes vehicles that seat at least 9 passengers. 
Helpful to know if you’re dealing with a large or a small company

Drivers: This is how many registered drivers the company has as of the MCS-150 Form Date.
Helpful to know if you’re dealing with a large or a small company

MCS-150 Form Date: Operators are required to update their MCS-150 form once every two years. In the example above, the operator is not required to update their information until 12/23/2011.
If the form has not been updated within two years, this may be an indication that this company’s records are no longer accurate. Caution is advised.

2) Inspections/Crashes

Underneath the ID/Operations box-out you will find the Inspections/Crashes reports. The data in this section tracks inspections over the previous two years. This section has the potential be alarming to charter-seeking customers, but by understanding what each area means, it can better inform you of a company’s safety.

Inspections: Inspections can happen at any time. An operator must always keep their fleet and drivers in passing condition to avoid failure. Small operators who rarely venture across state lines experience far fewer inspections than larger companies who frequently charter cross-country trips.

Out of Service: An “Out of Service” is result of the inspector finding conditions that pose an imminent hazard to safety. Examples could include a faulty windshield wiper to something more dangerous like bald tires. By the same card, a reason for a Driver Inspections failure could be something like a driver forgetting to record mileage in a log-book to something more dangerous such as driver exhaustion.

Special Note: It is now possible to view detailed information for failed inspections. Please refer to the Safety Measurement System section of this guide for details.

When an “Out of Service” order is issued, the vehicle or driver may not continue until the hazard is corrected. This may involve waiting for repairs or a replacement vehicle or driver. “Out of Service” can result in delays or termination of your trip.

Out of Service %: Since every company receives inspections at different times and at different intervals, a direct “pass/failure” comparison isn’t suitable for gauging the safety of operators. For example, a company who has 100 inspections and fails 10 is statistically a safer company than one who has 10 inspections and fails 2. The FMCSA therefore ranks companies by an Out of Service percentage.

Nat’l Average % (2009-2010): This number represents the average Out of Service percentage of all companies. This number should help put a perspective on how your selected carrier stacks up to the rest.

Hazmat: The Hazmat field on the far right indicates if the carrier was ever inspected while transporting hazardous materials in cargo. It’s rare for most bus operators to handle any hazardous materials. In the example above, the company successfully passed its inspection while transporting cargo that was considered to be hazardous materials.

Crashes: Crashes are recorded only once by highest severity. For example, if a crash involved 1 fatality and 3 injuries, only the 1 fatality would be recorded.

3) Safety Rating

The operator’s safety rating, identified underneath their Inspection/Crash record, is identified by one of three options that is based on their most recent compliance review.

Satisfactory: Records indicate no evidence of substantial non-compliance with safety requirements.
This is the best rating and indicates the operator, as of the compliance review date, was following all safety requirements.

Conditional: Records indicate that the carrier was out of compliance with one or more safety requirements.
This rating indicates that the operator, as of the compliance review date, did not meet all requirements. Caution is advised; it’s always a good idea to ask the operator how they’ve made improvements since their last compliance review.

Unsatisfactory: Records indicate evidence of substantial noncompliance with safety requirements.
BusRates.com only lists Satisfactory and Conditional companies. If you encounter a company that is marked as Unsatisfactory, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

4) Licensing & Insurance

The Licensing & Insurance area can be viewed by clicking the L&I link in the blue box-out located in the upper right of the FMCSA’s “Company Snapshot” for your selected charter operator. Alternatively, the operator’s L&I can be accessed from BusRates.com by clicking on the insurance link below their USDOT number on the company’s BusRates.com posting.

In addition to identifying information about the operator, including the legal name, address and phone, this area identifies which type of authority the operator filed for, in addition to the insurance on file ($5 million minimum is required for interstate passenger transit).

Particular fields to pay attention to include:

Authority Status: This should say “Active” for either Common or Contract authority. The company is not legally able to operate without “Active” authority.
BusRates.com only lists Active Common and Contract companies. If you encounter a company that has lost its authority, please alert us immediately at info@busrates.com

Insurance on File: The amount listed for Insurance on File should always match or exceed the amount listed in the adjacent field labeled Insurance Required. For operators licensed for interstate travel of vehicles larger than 15 passengers, $5,000,000 insurance should be present for both fields. If the operator’s largest vehicle seats 15 or fewer passengers, this field would display $1,500,000. Remember that while an operator may have insurance in excess of the Insurance Required, they do not need to make the total amount public. If your group requires that your operator has insurance in excess of the minimum $5 million required, please contact the operator directly. Proof of insurance can be provided by any operator upon request.

5) Safety Measurement System

FMCSA’s new Safety Measurement System (SMS) is a key component of the new CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) initiative which was unveiled to public access in December 2010. The new program aims to improve bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicles. In addition, it also reveals a wealth of information that was previously inaccessible to the public.

The Safety Measurement System can be accessed from the FMCSA’s Company Snapshot by clicking the SMS Results link in the blue box-out located in the upper right.

Keep in mind that the Safety Measurement System was not designed to measure an individual company’s safety, but rather to curb the safety of the entire industry. As such, company-specific safety declarations (such as those found on the Company Snapshot page) are not present. Instead, the SMS results are organized by percentiles.

The percentile system in SMS Results indicates how a company compares to others. The percentile is computed on a 0-100 scale, with 100 indicating the worst performance and 0 indicating the best performance. The SMS Results are presented within Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The screen capture below shows an actual company’s BASIC results.

In the example above, notice that this operator is in the 81.9 percentile for Fatigued Driving and has been flagged for Hours of Service violations. It’s important to remember that this flag does not necessarily denote an “unsafe” operator. The company’s actual “Safety Rating,” visible on the Company Snapshot, is Satisfactory; the highest rating possible. The flag is rather an indication that the FMCSA is “keeping their eye” on this carrier for any further Hours of Service violations and will prioritize this operator for future inspections.

Complete inspection details are archived in the SMS Results for 24 months. Further information is accessible by clicking any one of BASIC’s 7 categories. For instance, clicking on “Fatigued Driving (Hours-of-Service)” provides complete inspection details for all Hours of Service violations. Additionally, data for all categories are available at once by clicking the orange “View Complete Measurement Profile” to the upper right of the BASICs graph.

Now I’m Feeling Comfortable with my Bus Operator!

Glad to hear it! If you noticed any aspect of their Company Snapshot that didn’t seem right; ask them about it. If the operator’s Out of Service percentage is high, ask them for a reason for the failures. If an injury occurred in the past two years, ask them what steps they’ve taken to ensure an accident does not occur again.

Remember that the charter industry is a service industry; if you feel comfortable with your operator and the service they are willing to provide for you, relax and enjoy the trip! If you feel their service isn’t up to your standards, back out and find the operator that’s right for you.

The BusRates.com directory is your best tool for finding an operator that not only meets all your needs but exceeds them. Begin a search on our homepage to find the best companies for your group.

Safety tips when choosing a transportation provider.

What is the most important part of picking a company to work with when it comes to transportation providers? Is it price, is it equipment, is it drivers? The answer may not be as simple as you may think.

Safety Tip #1

Companies should always be happy to talk about what they do to keep you and your other passengers safe. This includes being willing to share insurance coverage limits, what their maintenance programs are like, the age and condition of their coaches, their drivers’ experience and training levels, and the like. Shy away from any company that just wants your money and isnot willing to discuss how they will keep you safe.

Safety Tip #2

Check the FMCSA Safer system. The regulatory agency that oversees the safe operation of commercial vehicles in the USA has a system where you can see a lot of important data about the companies you are shopping. Ask for a DOT number and use that to search. This will make it easier to find the right provider as there are a lot of companies with similar names. The FMCSA can tell you if the transportation company you are considering  has the highest available rating of SATISFACTORY. It will also show you other interesting information, such as the number of buses they operate and how many commercial drivers they employ. You can also see recent inspection results and how they stack up against the national averages.

Safety Tip #3

Only pay money to companies who have equipment to deliver the service you need. The number one complaint in the transportation world, from buses to town cars, is when people pay companies they find on the web who present as if they offer a service, but who are really brokers. Brokers take your money and then they try to find a company to deliver the service. This practice results in a lot of problems including: canceled service, lost money, and higher prices. Remember that brokers make money on the difference between what they charge you and the price they pay for the service. Their motivation may not be your safety, comfort, or even to ensure that your trip is the best it can be.

Safety Tip #4

Make sure that the quote you requested is the quote that you get. While this may seem simple, we see a lot of people who have issues with this. There are a number of things to keep in mind when you send a quote to an operator. Where you want to go, how many people will be going, the destination, and even the company you requested the quote from are things that should be double checked before you sign a deal. Things that may seem small to you, like a few added people that takes your party from 45 to 47 can derail a move if the piece of equipment the company dispatches only holds 45. We also see that there are times where a person is shopping for service from a certain company and they send a quote request based on their research. When the quote comes back they do not notice that the quote is from a “partner” company and that what they thought they were buying may be totally different. Quick checks to ensure that you are working with the company you want, that the details are what you want them to be, and that the dates all line up, can be the difference between a smooth trip and a stressful situation.

Safety Tip #5

Choose service over price whenever possible. There are a lot of things where choosing the lowest cost provider may be a good idea, then there are things where picking something just because it is the cheapest is not such a great plan. For example, 50% off day-old sushi, $25 eye laser surgery, and booking transportation! Transportation is nota commodity and every company is different. Some offer newer buses, better service, more friendly or trained drivers, onboard amenities like wifi and even the ability to watch movies on your own device just like the airlines. As you can imagine, others may not deliver the service, equipment, or even experience, you want. While price will inevitably be an important part in your shopping experience, choose the company that fits your needs best and you will ensure a better experience.

What you need to know when booking transportation for a group.

Booking group transportation does not have to be hard! If you want to know how to work with those companies who offer this service, here are five tips that will make your next group transportation booking go smoothly.

Tip #1: Know what you want… or at least what you think you want…

When it comes to transportation you will be asked a lot of questions., even if you are just a casual shopper. From where you want to be picked up to where you want to go to if there are any stops and how many passengers you will have… the list may seem longer than you want to answer when you are simply trying to do some price shopping. However, the reality is that some of these little details can mean huge differences in price and availability. Taking a few minutes to provide a more accurate picture of what you are going to be doing will ensure that the prices you get back are meaningful and represent what you can really expect for a trip like you are planning.

Tip # 2: Compare apples to apples.

One of the most difficult part of shopping for transportation is getting four or five quotes for the same service that are priced wildly differently and not understanding why.Like most businesses, not all transportation providers are the same or offer the same service or equipment. What may look like the same bus on the outside may, in fact, be totally different once you step aboard. From late model coaches vs. older coaches, the caliber of drivers and sales staff, types of equipment, maintenance programs, the size of their insurance policies, DOT/FMCSA ratings, and etc. the list of things that you will want to think about before you book is extensive. If a new coach with all the latest technology onboard is important to you, make sure that you are shopping for that. If you are only interested in moving your group from A to B for the least amount of money possible, make sure you shop for that. Transportation is definitely not a commodity. If you see one operator who’s price is higher than another there is most likely a reason for that. Ask the companies you are shopping why their prices are what they are and you will be surprised to learn just how different one is from another.

Tip #3: Avoid brokers. Go Direct.

Brokers are companies who represent that they offer transportation services to the public, but who do not own or operate vehicles directly. These companies make money on the difference between what you pay them and what they are able to pay the companies who ultimately operate the equipment you will be riding on. This means two things. First, their motivation is to get the service for as cheap as possible. If you are not interested in the cheapest way to go, then this is not a good choice for you. Even if you are interested in the cheapest choice, you still should not choose a broker because, like we said before, they make money on the difference between what you pay them and what they pay the transportation company. Ultimately you still aren’t getting the most inexpensive deal with brokers. Booking directly is safer too, as many of the issues that we have seen in the industry start with people paying for transportation to a company who does not actually have the ability to deliver that service. Nothing beats going directly to the service provider and negotiating to get the service, equipment, and price that works for you.

Tip #4: Look at reviews

Reviews are not just for buying comfy sheets on Amazon! They are a great tool when dealing with a transportation provider. We all know that things do not always go right, especially when you are dealing with traffic, driving conditions, weather and the like. You can see how the companies you want to work with act when things do not go right by checking online reviews. It is easy to want to judge a company on its best day, but the better way is to judge them on the days where things do not go right!

Tip #5: Shopping is not always looking for the lowest price

You will find that there will be operators who will send you quotes that are significantly lower than others. If they are also the company running the best equipment, who have the most friendly customer service, drivers and sales, and are shining stars with the FMCSA and DOT, then we would say book it and do it fast! What you will find is that most of the time those that are the lowest price are not all of those others things. Trust your instincts and book the company that fits your needs the best. Choosing a transportation provider is a big decision as your safety will ultimately be in their hands. Choose a company who you feel you can trust and that is doing everything they can to keep you and your fellow passengers safe, comfortable, and that you believe will do what they say they will do, when they say they will do it. That may or may not be the lowest cost provider, but will always be the best choice!