UMA Associate Members are key industry partners who truly champion the industry and provide services that help operators.
During the pandemic, these person to person relationships between partners and operators are more important as everyone works to save the industry, says United Motorcoach Association Board Member Bob Greene, of Amaya-Astron Seating.
Three of these industry champions recently shared the ways they are supporting operators during the pandemic. Mike McDonal, of Saucon Technologies; Mark Szyperski, of On Your Mark Transportation; and Sylvia Jackson, of AMBEST, recounted their history with the industry and offered ideas for ways they can help right now.
The three represent the non-coachbuilders among UMA’s members, said Greene, who helped welcome the panelists during the Aug. 20 Town Hall session.
Fuel and food
Jackson explained that many AMBEST fuel locations have dining areas for groups available, even in a time when those who are traveling often find few options for places to eat.
AMBEST also offers UMA members exclusive discounts on fuel, which really comes in handy when fleets are rolling.
“Our AMBEST members feel the impact of not seeing the motorcoach operators,” she said, considering so few buses are on the road right now. AMBEST is not only a member of UMA, it also holds membership in every state association in the industry. The fuel program’s savings add up to an average of 25 cents per gallon, with some areas seeing as high as a 60-cent-per-gallon savings.
Jackson is also offering UMA members a free fuel analysis.
“Anyone who wants to take the time and send me past fuel reports, I’ll be glad to analyze them and see where you can save money,” she said.
As staff are being downsized, Saucon is trying to find ways to use technology to help operators become more efficient.
“Right now, we are trying to take technology and apply it to what you are going through,” McDonal said, adding that 98% of Saucon’s business is in the motorcoach industry.
Before joining Saucon — which marks its 20th anniversary this month — McDonal was general manager for an operator, so he understands the issues his customers face. Most know Saucon for its GPS and ELD products, but the company has launched some new tech tools. The new COVID package provides a way for drivers and staff to do online health screenings before coming to work. Another product, launching on Labor Day, will keep a digital record of bus cleanings and disinfection.
Saucon is giving financial relief to customers and letting them suspend services.
McDonal’s best advice to operators is to make their transition back into business as simple as possible. He recommends staying in constant contact with coaches and athletic directors to really keep an eye on what schools and universities are doing to bring back sports.
“You want to be prepared for that ramp-up,” McDonal said. “Know what drivers you’re going to bring back, how many buses to bring back online at this time. By hearing what your customers are saying, you can be prepared to ramp up at a pace that’s good and reasonable for you.”
In the meantime, he’s seeing customers being creative in finding other ways to generate revenue from their vehicle and facilities.
“I see a lot of our customers are opening up their shops to work on commercial vehicles, turning a shop into a moneymaker as opposed to a cost center as it normally is with their traditional operations,” McDonal said. “I’ve seen people open their wash bays or yards for people to wash or park their RVs. They are freeing up their real estate to make money.”
No-cost website ideas
Szyperski suggested operators “look for website ideas that don’t cost you money.”
His ideas were recently featured in a series of articles in Bus & Motorcoach News. He remarked that many sites go without updates for long periods of time, and that an out-of-date website can give a bad impression.
Customers are “going to want to look and see if a business is open and active, and how safe they are going to be on that bus,” Szyperski said.
As the son of a Greyhound driver, Szyperski grew up in the industry. He eventually became vice president of Trailways before launching his own consulting business. He has assembled a team of experts that can provide assistance with social media, public relations, grant writing and mechanics. His website includes blogs on a variety of topics, and Szyperski also invites people who have questions to give him a call.
He’s seeing some UMA members consider scheduled service because of the 5311 (f) grants that have been supporting them.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from others saying, ‘You know what I think? Scheduled services aren’t so scary anymore.’ People are finally looking at scheduled service as an option,” Szyperski said.
“When it comes to rural scheduled service supported by 5311 (f) grants, those routes have been running at 100% in many states because the government has been telling the companies to continue to run those routes. Public transportation is the only way folks in those small communities have of getting in and out of the community,” he said.
Szyperski, who has helped clients apply for the grants and help plan and implement service, encourages operators who want to learn more about them to contact their state Department of Transportation to find out about their programs and bidding process.
“A lot of bids have few respondents,” he said.