AMBEST delivers savings on fuel in volatile times

by Peter Corbett

Political tensions in the Middle East that spark fuel price increases keep Sylvia Jackson on edge as she works to keep costs down for bus and motorcoach operators.

Jackson is the motorcoach executive for AMBEST Inc., which offers fuel discounts for United Motorcoach Association members. The three-year-old UMA-AMBEST fuel discount program is available at nearly 400 of AMBEST’s independently owned network of truck stops and travel centers.

UMA members at AMBEST locations pay the wholesale cost of diesel fuel as determined by the Oil Price Information Service plus 9 cents per gallon or the retail price minus 3 cents per gallon, whichever is lower.

“Right now the average savings is 25 to 30 cents per gallon in an oil market with rising prices and a lot of uncertainty,” Jackson said.

In early October, the difference was as high as 65 cents per gallon in Tucson, 59 cents in Delaware and 58 cents in Arkansas and Texas, she added.

U.S. prices on diesel fuel Oct. 7 were $3.047, up $0.076 from a month earlier and down a fraction from a year ago, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But an attack on Saudi Arabia oil installations Sept. 14 and other tensions in the Middle East have created fears of volatility in the oil market that could push prices higher.

The EIA October forecast “recognizes a higher level of oil supply disruption risk than previously assumed.” However, the agency noted that Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production returned to pre-outage levels as of Oct. 3.

Still, the UMA-AMBEST card is a hedge against unexpected price surges.

Jackson said she’s seen sudden and hefty price increases in her career as a fuel negotiator and as a truck stop manager decades ago. Currently, she is the motorcoach executive for AMBEST and an employee of the Davis Oil Co.

Jackson was surprised the bus and motorcoach industry did not have the price discounts the trucking industry has enjoyed for many years. So, she set out to change that inequity.

Ken Presley, UMA vice president of industry relations and chief operating officer, said UMA member companies are saving thousands of dollars annually with the UMA-AMBEST program.

“An early estimate of savings to UMA members is likely approaching the $1 million mark, bringing true meaning to the phrase ‘membership pays,’” said Presley.

There are also driver incentives. They’re rewarded with $20 AMBEST gift cards each time they bring in at least 20 passengers to participating AMBEST truck stops. Drivers are also entered into a grand prize drawing for a Polaris Slingshot, a three-wheel roadster.

Jackson’s efforts have engendered goodwill in the bus and motorcoach industry. This summer she was honored as associate of the year by motorcoach associations representing operators in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

“We like people that are as passionate about helping UMA members succeed as we are,” Presley said.

Jackson was thrilled. “I find it such an honor. I’ve grown to love a lot of people in this industry and felt like a part of their family… It keeps me going.”

It should be no surprise that Jackson has an affinity for bus and motorcoach people. She has the pedigree. Her mother Margaret was a Greyhound bus driver in the 1950s, a decade after the company hired its first women drivers during World War II.

Her father, Edward Delatte, met Margaret at a bus depot in Newport News, Virginia, while he was on leave from the Marine Corps during the Korean War.

“I was raised on the front seat of a school bus because my mom trained bus drivers and drove school buses,” Jackson said.

Years later, as a Union 76 truck stop manager, Jackson said she came to appreciate motorcoach visits.

“I used to love my buses,” she said. “I would be overjoyed when I’d see my bus drivers rolling in, my coaches rolling in with their many people on board.”

She built relationships with the drivers and learned the importance of getting buses in and out of the truck stop quickly. That generated repeat business.

Now it’s those relationships and fuel discounts that are paying dividends for UMA members and AMBEST’s travel centers.

After three years, the UMA-AMBEST fuel program is starting to gain traction, according to Presley.

“As more companies and drivers share their AMBEST experience with fuel-cost savings, rewards and favorable passenger experience, the interest in obtaining the AMBEST cards continues to grow.”

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