Coach Operator Recounts Experiences with Bus Brokers
By Dean Golden, Operations Manager at West Valley Charter Lines in Campbell, Calif.
First, I would like to commend Bus & Motorcoach News for tackling the issue of bus brokers in your last few issues. After reading the various articles, I thought I would respond as an operator who has dealt with many different bus brokers over the years.
A bus broker is simply someone trying to make a buck off bus companies. A broker often will charge their customers from 5 to 100 percent — or more — over the price we quote them. We see this all the time. I have been told some brokers have a minimum $200 markup on any trip, meaning a $120 school bus rental would be priced at a minimum of $320.
A bus broker has nothing to do with the operation of a bus company; why should an operator be giving them money? A bus broker does not make the playing field level or fair. If you are not an approved vendor, or a “liked” vendor of a bus broker, they will not call you for a quote. So, they truly aren’t even a broker in my opinion.
I am amazed that Edward Telmany (president) of US Coachways Inc. has taken the time to respond to the articles. (See Nov. 15 and Feb. 15 issues of Bus & Motorcoach News.) I have personally left 10-plus voice-mail messages for him during the past three years that never were responded to. We had booked trips for US Coachways but we invariably had to try to chase down payment information and trip details from the company.
It is nearly impossible to get through his phone tree when you call his company and try to speak to a live person. And, if you do reach a live person, you are sent from person to person because the person you are speaking to isn’t able to help you.
About Bus Bank
The Bus Bank is another example of what I would consider a bad broker to deal with. The Bus Bank is endorsed by Lancer Insurance. We met with one of their people about a year and a half ago in our office. The presentation was very well done and I bought into what they had to offer. I asked the following three questions:
1. Will The Bus Bank adhere to our cancellation policy? (They said “yes” in our meeting.)
2. Will The Bus Bank guarantee if the trip is in the San Francisco market, it will only contact coach companies in the San Francisco market, not go to companies out of the area? (They claimed this was the case.)
3. Can The Bus Bank provide a breakdown of how many bookings they have had in the San Francisco market? (The Bus Bank representative said they would supply the figures; we never saw them.)
When I received the packet to sign up for The Bus Bank, they had all these terms and conditions we had to agree to or they would not use us. Basically, they tell you how to run your company when they book with you, and all your policies and procedures mean nothing. So, we have decided not to be part of them.
As for Metropolitan Shuttle, they have called us on three different occasions, and we have chosen not to do business with them. We asked for payment up front, before the trips went, and they told us they only pay net-30 days. We couldn’t agree to that.
Why do brokers try to bully a company into their terms or they will not use them? Is that how the broker is supposed to work?
Then there is Transportation Management Services, known as TMS.
We have been doing work for them for about four years. Their convention shuttle work is always paid in full and before the event. They have been a great company to deal with.
We also did work for them following Hurricane Katrina, and like many other companies it was a struggle to get final payment from them. Even though that was really frustrating, I believe TMS is a fair company to work with.
We have had dealings with:
— CharterBusAmerica.com, which used to be CopperTopTours.com, and others.
There are so many brokers for a person to choose from.
In recent weeks, I have been in contact with many different bus companies across the U.S., and I have been amazed by the number of independent operators that have chosen to use brokers. And, how many have been burned by brokers.
MyBestRide.com seems to be the worst of the worst from what I am hearing. I have been in contact with a dozen different operators who claim they are owed in excess of $20,000 by this broker, with some of the bills well over 120 days past due.
Four companies say Metropolitan Shuttle owes them in excess of $10,000.
The Bus Bank has five companies who claim they’re owed in excess of $8,000.
And two companies are claiming USABusCharter.com owes them in excess of $5,000.
To me, it doesn’t matter if these claims are accurate or not. It just reinforces my belief that any operator who chooses to work with a bus broker should be paid up front, and have a copy of a signed contract.
I also want to talk about BusRates.com. Glenn P. Orloff of Metropolitan Shuttle had many negative things to say about them (see Feb. 15 Bus & Motorcoach News).
I find BusRates.com to be the best online place I work with. We joined their site in March 2005, and since then we have had about 290 inquires for quotes from their site, and have booked 86 trips/tours, which is 30 percent.
This is a better return of my time, verses anything a bus broker can give me. After reading (Mr. Orloff’s) article, it has made me decide to help out BusRates.com, and give them more tools their online customers can use to help determine if a bus company is good or not.
There are many Web sites that potential bus customers can use to see if an operator has a current registration, has a good safety rating, and has insurance coverage.
In California, where we’re located, there are very strict state rules when it comes to hauling students. Bus brokers are violating these rules by telling customers the rules don’t apply because they are booking through a broker. Again, this just shows the broker does not have any interest in the law, or the companies they deal with. They go out and get the business and give it to the coach company that provides the lowest quote, with no respect to how long the company has been in business, what type of coaches they have, or their safety rating. The lowest price wins.
I believe the bottom line is pretty simple: Bus companies shouldn’t use brokers to get their business. If all bus companies would stop using brokers we would not loose customers. The customers would end up calling coach companies directly and eliminate the brokers.
If a coach company decides to work with a broker, it should not do the work without payment up front. They collect their money up front from their customers; why shouldn’t you as a bus operator be paid up front as well?
Bus companies also do not need to offer a lower net rate to bus brokers, or allow brokers to negotiate the price down. There is plenty of mark-up tacked on by brokers.
Finally, when talking directly to customers or potential customers, bus companies should add some type of explanation or warning in their sales pitch or e-mailed quotes about dealing with bus brokers and broker price gouging.