Charter operator plays starring role in taking 9,000 students to ‘Hamilton’

In 2019, The Dan and Lillian King Foundation of Monterey, California, committed to underwrite an ambitious goal: Take every eighth grader in Monterey County to San Francisco to see “Hamilton” as a lesson about the U.S. Constitution and civic engagement.

It turned out that buying 9,000 tickets to the hottest musical in the country was considerably easier than figuring out the logistics of transporting that many students more than 250 miles round-trip.

That’s why the organization turned to Discovery Charters, a tour bus company started in 1986 by retired band teacher Dick Dorr that has grown into the Monterey Peninsula’s leading motorcoach operator.

In the parlance of this Tony Award-winning musical, second-generation owners Richard and Jeanne Dorr weren’t going to throw away their shot at playing a crucial role in this extraordinary production.

Countless hours of planning

They devoted countless hours to planning the logistics of six trip dates spread over September, October and February. Each one involves moving more than 1,500 students and chaperones in a caravan of more than 30 coaches through the congested streets of San Francisco.

“It was really important for our reputation that this went smoothly. It’s not just something we wanted to throw together,” Richard said. “There was no template; we had to create it.”

Watch a video explaining how Richard and Discovery Charters made the trip become a reality.

Among the things they had to figure out: Where to drop off and pick up a throng of excited teenagers, where to stage 30 buses near the Orpheum Theater during the performance and the simplest route into a city where many streets are closed to bus traffic because of the hilly landscape, limited street parking and neighborhood concerns.

The Dorrs also had to work with the Monterey County Office of Education on the complexity of the operation. School officials initially estimated it would take 15 minutes to drop off and pick up the students and teachers at the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown San Francisco.

“In the city, that’s just not how it works. You don’t pull up 30 buses on the city block and 15 minutes later they’re all pulling away. It’s important to stagger the buses and organize multiple drop zones to control the flow of students into the theater,” Richard explained to them.

Other issues to work around were local protests blocking traffic and designated parking for the buses being pulled at the eleventh hour.

“Thankfully, all the coach operators and Orpheum Theater security were patient and flexible,” he said.

Subcontracting buses

Complicating the plan was that Discovery could provide only a third of the buses. The rest were subcontracted from operators in San Jose, about 60 miles from Discovery’s Castroville facility. With three total hours already designated toward deadhead to and from the various schools, the challenge was making sure these outside operators didn’t violate the hours of service rule limiting drivers to 10 hours. Additionally, the state of California has more stringent hours of service rules when transporting students. The alternative was a driver switch, which raises costs.

“There’s all these variables and logistical challenges, and we’ve had to figure it out,” Richard Dorr said.

When the foundation realized that they wouldn’t be able to use school buses for this once-in-a-lifetime field trip, they were grateful the Dorrs stepped up to coordinate the entire venture.

“The logistical expertise demonstrated by them was truly phenomenal. This is the kind of project that people just dream about—and also have nightmares about—and their performance was exceptional,” said Marc Del Piero, a member of the King Foundation board.

He came up with the idea and first made contact with the team of Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and original star of “Hamilton.” Miranda’s dad, Luis, became personally involved in making sure the project went smoothly.

Del Piero praised the “incredible generosity” of the Miranda family for offering a bulk rate on the tickets that normally run hundreds of dollars apiece. The entire undertaking is estimated to cost about $2 million.

A transformative experience

One reason the project was so special to the Miranda family is that seeing “Hamilton” could be a transformative experience for many students who live below the poverty line.

While Monterey County is often associated with the wealthy tourist communities of Pebble Beach, Carmel and Spanish Bay, there are deep pockets of poverty. Many of the poor are Hispanic farm workers, who are employed in fields across the Central Coast region. Their children often haven’t been to the county’s postcard-perfect beaches, let alone San Francisco, said Stephen Collins, part-time executive director of the foundation.

The primary mission of the foundation is to advance learning about the U.S. Constitution among students in Monterey County. Leading up to seeing “Hamilton,” the students studied Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers’ role in creating the Constitution.

Although the foundation invited the Dorrs to see the musical, they have been too busy coordinating the buses during the performances to attend, but the couple plan to see the show on a day they can relax and enjoy it.

The hard work of the Dorrs and their employees to make the Hamilton project a success has won rave reviews from the King Foundation.

“I cannot speak highly enough of Discovery Charters. And we’re contemplating doing this again, which means we will need them to be our transportation manager again,” Collins said.

The ‘Hamilton’ project by the numbers

  • 9,000 students
  • 6 performances
  • 180 bus trips
  • $2 million budget
  • 250 miles roundtrip

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