A hypocrite takes a second look at non-profit bus operations

I’ve always thought a hypocrite was an ill-tempered beast that lived in African rivers. (NOT a rhinoceros… they have horns and are hard to spell.)

Imagine the shock when I discovered I was one.

Those unfortunate enough to read these columns over the years may have figured out that my gang was involved in some outrageous bussy behavior while driving for a youth organization. You may think the statute of limitations is a monument in New York harbor, but to me it’s forgiveness for past sins.

Hang on, we’re turning on a dime here.

Despite personal history, I’ve swung to the conclusion that many non-profits should take a second look at operating vehicles, particularly in highway transportation.

Although we feel charter pricing is depressed, non-profits think it’s too expensive. Regulatory and economic factors have shrunk the number of available charter coaches nationwide, making seasonal trips more difficult to book.

Used coach values are down dramatically, and many schools, churches and organizations are tempted to buy and operate their own buses and vans. You can’t blame manufacturers for selling used equipment wherever they can (although they, and over-regulation, may be partly to blame for the glut).

Caveat emptor (a bit of Latin to dazzle you). Buyer beware… or “careful what you ask for, you might get it.” Buying a used coach (or van) is easy, but safely operating and maintaining it often comes at a much steeper price than imagined… gripping a tiger by the tail springs to mind.

A pre-owned bus is cheap because it is… used. In addition to wear that may not be visible, it likely lacks amenities and safety technology that are virtually standard on newer coaches.

Many motorcoach companies safely buy and operate older equipment because they’ve invested in the infrastructure and expertise that makes things work. Non-profits often assume commercial vehicles are like cars. Drive them and fix them when they break.

They aren’t like cats, happy to be ignored. Think golden retriever puppies… they need attention ALL the time.

Doing things safely costs money, and if non-profits played by the same rules as commercial vehicles, we’d look like a real bargain. They have no minimum insurance requirements and often are not subject to the same inspections we are.

Getting a DOT number is pretty much automatic, and anecdotally, virtually the only time they’re audited is after a major incident, and they are not “rated.”

Our drivers are required to have CDL’s and drug testing if traveling interstate, but with non-profits most drivers work part-time. All sorts of HOS conflicts lurk, often only coming to light after an accident.

Vans are scarier. If their seating capacity is under 16, no CDL is required. In real life, that often equates to a driver with no professional experience, operating a vehicle with a high center of gravity. Fully loaded, chances are that sucker is overweight by a lot.

Go back a couple of paragraphs to the part where their insurance coverage may be minimal. During my bad old days, we skirted a few rules because we were “virtuous.” Experience has convinced me that you may be able to schmooze a policeman, but Mother Nature and lawyers are less forgiving.

The non-profit where my gang started not only no longer runs buses but has enacted a rigorous program to ensure they hire quality operators for their camping program. Ironically, the guy who developed their protocol was our leading miscreant.

Enough of this. It’s summer… and I’m considering heading to Greece to visit the Acronym.

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