When Tony Wei immigrated to the United States from China in 1995, he came with a plan and a sense of urgency.
“My dream was always to one day become an entrepreneur,” said Wei, Chairman and CEO — and founder — of United Bus Technology (UBT) in Mclean, Virginia. “When I launched my first business in 1997, I found the experience nearly unbelievable.”
Wei has created four startup companies in the past 25 years, three of which proved successful and one which Wei recounts selling for more than $100 million.
“My philosophy for building a startup business involves two basic objectives,” he said. “First, do something that is clearly good for the country and, of course, good for the customers the business will serve. Then, make it good for all players in the associated industries. Second, build in as many ways possible to increase the efficiency of the operation. Efficiency is the most important discipline for a company to be successful.”
UBT, launched in 2015, is Wei’s most recent endeavor and currently the only such tech company to tailor its innovations solely to accommodate the motorcoach industry. Five years and $10 million later, the company offers three proprietary IT solutions to deliver and manage critical ticketing, safety management, and onboard entertainment. Wei believes this is the one endeavor that fits perfectly with his philosophy in every way.
Chris Liang, director of sales at UBT, was hoping to land a position with an IT startup operation when he met Wei, who enlisted him as one of the first five employees in the new company.
“I have to say, I was taken aback at first to learn he had created UBT to primarily serve the motorcoach industry,” said Liang. “I could not fathom how motorcoaches fit into the IT industry.”
Wei explained to his recruits how new opportunities lie within older industries desperately in need of technological advancements.
UBT puts operators first
According to industry census figures, nearly 40,000 motorcoaches are running throughout North America, while 87% of the operators own fewer than 10 units. Wei says many small-business owners are not equipping their company to utilize the standard IT infrastructures that can increase efficiency, reduce costs, and lead to greater profits.
Wei says he purposely designed UBT management applications to empower all coach operators with greater control over their IT solutions to improve customer service, streamline management and create new opportunities for additional revenue.
“I believe this industry is plenty big enough to merit our attention and, at the same time, just small enough to be inviting,” he said. “More than 600 million passengers ride coaches annually. Still, no big-name tech company wants to dip its toe into this business because it cannot generate nearly enough profit to feed a giant company.”
Inside the UBT toolbox
Three IT components encompass the UBT solution: TIXOOL Advanced Ticketing Solution, NETBOX Mega Wi-Fi, and ONCOACH CINEMA Movie Streaming Solution.
“Our IT platforms allow North American motorcoach operators to satisfy the interests of today’s tech-driven passengers,” said Liang. “Comprehensive passenger ticketing and scheduling options, seamless Wi-Fi entertainment, and connectivity, as well as trustworthy electronic safety management have become critical functions on the modern motorcoach.”
The TIXOOL advanced ticketing technology is the foundation of the UTB motorcoach experience for operators and passengers.
Serving operators and customers
The bus and motorcoach industry took a major hit with the COVID-19 shutdown, leaving many small businesses scrambling to find new ways to save money in a time of severe financial strain.
“Many operators have said ‘less is more’ is the new norm during this time,” said Wei. ”However, we have been able to demonstrate easier ways our upgraded technology serves operators and customers and increases revenues, even when business is slow.”
Wei says, in many instances, smaller companies are utilizing outdated ticketing systems, and most likely are unaware of new technology that can actually save them money.
“Nonetheless, without an online ticketing system with modern customer-based amenities, transportation companies can be certain of losing money,” said Liang. “We expect this world to change as more people are using smartphones to purchase tickets, arrange travel on websites, and use secure checkouts.”
According to UBT, its products are very user-friendly. Bus companies can easily create apps and websites that reflect their own brand and identity, and provide valuable and timely travel information and news announcements to clients and their customers. UBT’s backend system ties into an SMS system to send instant messages and texts to travelers who have previously purchased tickets.
UBT also offers API integration that allows an operator company to utilize third-party sales outlets, such as Wanderu.com.
“Our technology solutions work hand-in-hand on the backend system,” said Liang. “Where a bus company shows an inventory of 55 seats, those seats appear on both companies’ websites. If the third-party vendor sells five of those seats, the bus company site will update automatically to show 50 seats are currently available for purchase.”
Transactions in customers’ hands
Liang further notes a coach operator working with outdated ticketing technology makes it difficult and time-consuming for the customer — and less efficient for the company — to change or cancel a reservation.
“The operator can pay two or three employees to deal with their customers’ travel issues,” he said. “UBT puts these transactions in the customers’ hands — which ultimately is easier for the customer with less overhead for the operator.”
The TIXOOL solution also offers advance seat selection, for which Liang says passengers are often willing to pay extra.
“For example, if 50 seats are available and 25 customers pay the $4 fee to select their own seat, the company makes an additional $100 for that run,” he said. “It amounts to creating a new revenue source that adds up quickly.”
Additionally, UBT offers a menu of further ticketing options that include fees for trip rescheduling protection, extra luggage, and priority boarding.
Case in point: Ohio GoBus
For the first eight of its nine years in existence, ticketing had always been a laborious issue for Ohio GoBus, the transportation division of Hocking Athens Perry Community Action (HAPCAP) agency based in Athens, Ohio, to provide bus service in the rural regions of the state. Working with an older, out-of-date system posed major challenges with operation and response time, and entailed hiring additional personnel to manage the entire ticketing process.
“We allowed passengers to pay with cash as they boarded, but that didn’t guarantee their seat,” said HAPCAP Administrator Caroline Conley. “As our customers grew more accustomed to their PCs and smartphones to pre-order their bus tickets, the process only became messier.”
Conley said, while the agency had always intended to provide online ticketing, the issue with how passengers could print their tickets to present as they boarded was becoming increasingly more stressful.
“We researched numerous platforms but never found one we thought was a good fit with our operations,” she said. “Then, during the particularly rough spell this past year, when GoBus was essentially operating without an effective ticketing system, one of our service providers introduced us to United Bus Technology. Chris Liang gave us a complete demonstration of the TIXOOL system and, for the first time, we saw a solution we knew would work for us.”
Ohio GoBus has been up and running successfully with UBT and TIXOOL ticketing technology since late February.