When juggling what seems like a million moving pieces for an event, meeting planners might get focused on the venue or the catering or the speakers, and overlook — or underestimate — an equally important aspect: transportation.
Event transportation is, simultaneously, one of the least exciting and one of the most important aspects of planning meetings. It requires a lot of tedious logistics but, ultimately, it’s about the lives and safety of attendees.
“You have to dig into the nitty gritty, because transportation is one of the areas with the most risk in our business,” said Kimberly Hoffman, director of event services for Indianapolis-based Accent Indy, a DMC Network Company.
Planners must also decide what level of service they want for their events.
“Does the program warrant a DMC or service provider — somebody who is truly providing a service — or do you just want the bus to show up?” she asked.
These experts provide their tips, best practices and insight about how to handle transportation for events.
Safety and Security
“The most important thing is safety,” said Eddie Stewart, owner and CEO of Nashville-based Stewart Transportation Services, a transportation coordination company that works mostly in the ground transportation industry. The company is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this year.
Planners should check operators’ records on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safer database. That U.S. Department of Transportation database shows whether operators have had accidents or other violations, and allows planners to evaluate their safety records and registration information.
Insurance is hugely important, and planners should ask to see the operator’s insurance certificate to make sure the policy is up to date, hasn’t been canceled and will be in effect when the event occurs.
Motorcoach operators are required to carry a minimum of $5 million in insurance, “but if you have a company that has $10 million or $15 million, you know they’re the real deal; you know they’re serious,” said Carol Mondello, general manager for Massachusetts-based Ground Charters, a transportation broker that’s been doing business in the U.S. and Canada for 10 years.
Planners should also add their client as an additional insured on the vendor’s policy. It’s a simple process that provides an extra layer of protection, Stewart said.
Planners should consider several things to make sure that event transportation runs as smoothly as possible. For arrivals and departures, it’s helpful to include a transportation opt-in as part of attendee registration, Hoffman said. Running shuttles blindly from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is not efficient and is not the best way to get the most for your money.
“As much of a pain as it is to collect arrival and departure information, it just sets everybody up for success,” she said.
Planners should also ask if drivers are local. Local drivers know the area. If they run into construction or an accident, they know which routes aren’t safe — or even passable — for motorcoaches.
A DMC or service provider can also help with routing or help with boarding so the buses don’t overfill.
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have found their place in the event industry but mostly on the attendee side.
Most of Accent Indy’s events still provide arrival and departure transportation for attendees, Hoffman said. Those that don’t probably never did, so ride-sharing has simply become another option for attendees.
“At the end of the day, it’s whether they want to provide a service,” she said.
However, planners should make accommodations for ride-sharing. Before, there was a taxi stand; now there’s a taxi stand and an Uber/Lyft area. Planners can have someone at the curb directing traffic; or now there are even antennas that can help direct ride-share drivers to the pickup area.
While some small and medium-size events may cut out paying for buses and shuttles to save money, there’s a misconception that ride-sharing is a “greener” option that reduces traffic.
“You’re putting more people in vehicles versus putting 55 people on a motorcoach,” Stewart said.
Planners may look at a vendor’s website and see pretty pictures of big, beautiful motorcoaches, but those may not be the buses they get.
Event organizers can ask about fleet age and maintenance and even communicate their expectations about the kind of buses they want for their event.
“I think it’s fair to ask for pictures of vehicles you’ll be getting and the exact vehicles you can expect that day,” Hoffman said.
Planners should also be aware — and wary — of subcontractors.
“Subrenting is a huge trend in the transportation industry, and it peeves us,” Hoffman said.
A vendor may take your business and then farm it out to a friendly competitor, “so you think you’re going to get this picture you see on a website of a beautiful motorcoach, but you end up getting this not-as-beautiful motorcoach from a competitor,” Stewart said.
Stewart Transportation requires its vendors to tell them if they subcontract and with whom, which allows the company to vet the subcontractor and its equipment.
It’s also smart to ask vendors whether they have equipment that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act and their ability to accommodate attendees with disabilities, Stewart said.
The federal government began requiring seat belts on all new motorcoaches in November 2016, but existing buses were not required to be retrofitted with seat belts, so older vehicles likely won’t have them, Mondello noted.
Budget is a big factor for any event, and transportation is a significant piece of any budget. Doing a request-for-proposal or getting quotes from a few operators will help secure a good rate. Most of the time, those rates will be within a similar range, Mondello said, but “if you get one that’s way cheaper than the others, do they have older vehicles, or are they taking care of them as they should?”
The best price is not always the best way to go, depending on the clients and the event requirements, Stewart said.
Accent Indy gets a lot of requests for minibuses because people think a smaller bus means a cheaper rate, and “that’s not at all the case,” Hoffman said.
Along with fleet availability, planners should factor in hourly minimums, which can be deceiving. Sometimes a 54-passenger motorcoach with a five-hour minimum will be cheaper than a 32-passenger minicoach with a three-hour minimum.
“Do the math and take the time to explore all your options in the market that you’ll be in,” Hoffman said.
Using a DMC, broker or service provider may save the client money because those companies have relationships with vendors and the buying power to get a better deal than going direct.