Editor’s note: This essay by VIP Sports Getaway shares their story of how working with the Texas Troopers on bus inspections improved the Texas company’s safety procedures.
VIP Sports Getaway, established in 2007, began with an entertainment bus and was geared toward giving people a chance to get away for a fun adventure, primarily to sporting events. Due to demand for the various experiences, the company got into the charter bus business so customers could enjoy similar experiences with up to 55 of their friends. As the charter bus business began to grow, VIP saw a need for what is now Safe Charters, a division of VIP Sports Getaway. The goal of Safe Charters has always been to be a safety-driven company with both quality buses and drivers.
In business, it is always stated that the customer comes first. At Safe Charters, the priority is safety. Safe Charters wants our customers to know that when they board our buses, they will be safe. We get requests for a lot of scenarios in our business, and we try to make them all happen. But if it is not safe, we pass on the opportunity. Because of this mindset, VIP hired a safety manager so we would have someone with overall safety as their focus. Having many questions, our new safety manager contacted the local Texas Department of Public Safety Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Troopers (DPS CVE) for information.
Building a relationship
Being in the commercial vehicle class, we are required by federal law to get our buses inspected at least once a year. When we started our relationship with the DPS CVE, we discovered that we both had a need that could be met by working together. The Inspectors needed to inspect several buses each year, and we felt that the more our buses were inspected, the safer our buses and our customers would be. In addition to inspecting our buses, we also had the opportunity to not only get to know the CVE team, but to share information. Anytime we run into a gray area or are looking for an interpretation, we know that we can contact one of “our troopers” and get an answer.
When we started this relationship, we worked with Sgt. Nunez and Troopers Jeremy Usner and Daniel Self. We now work with Sgt. Justin Tabor and Troopers Brandon Smedley and Daniel Self, all of whom are (or were) out of the Abilene, Texas, office. Each time, others from the area also assist.
The inspection starts with the Inspectors coming to our yard and inspecting available buses. The Inspectors will point out needed repairs, weak points or any concerns we should pay attention to. Many times, we can make the repairs on the spot. This gets us closer to our goal of having the safest buses on the road. It also gets us a “Golden Sticker,” which shows law enforcement agencies, our drivers and our customers that we have had a detailed inspection of the bus. During the process, we exchange information to sharpen their skills as well as our own.
A few years ago, we were asked if the troopers could come inspect our buses and to brush up because one of them was going to the North American Inspectors Championship competition. Trooper Usener did a thorough inspection and went on to win the championship that year. It was an honor to see that one of “our troopers” won the championship. To this day, we take every chance we get to brag about our trooper getting the title as the top inspector and that he inspected our buses regularly. It was an honor to know him and to get his thanks for being a part of high honor.
New lifts improve process
After some time off for COVID, we have resumed the whole inspection process with the DPS CVE Team. In February 2023, we invested in a set of bus lifts to further our capabilities in keeping our bus fleet safe. These newly purchased lifts aid in the inspections, allowing easier access by letting the inspectors get under the buses while standing up rather than moving around on creepers. Our maintenance personnel walk alongside the inspectors to see what they are looking for and what, if anything, needs to be corrected. Knowing what to look for and what should be corrected versus what we think might be good enough helps to ensure that our buses not only stay running but run safely.
The best part in all of this is that we have developed a great relationship with those who work to keep our equipment safe and ready for the road. It also has been beneficial in providing us with a place to go when we have questions or concerns about the buses, drivers, hours of service and other areas. We have had our DPS CVE Team out for our quarterly safety meetings so they can meet our drivers, answer any questions and strengthen our relationship. The main goal is safety, and that can be accomplished by working together.
We encourage any company or agency that operates CMVs to contact those who are responsible for vehicle inspections and build a relationship with them. Once your company has that relationship started, you can look forward to working with the inspectors. It goes a long way for all sides.