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Buses and Vans
By: Lori Southern

Your church has determined that it is time to add transportation to its ministry or even replace existing transportation. Whether it is a first-time buy or a replacement purchase, buying a bus will be a major capital expense for the church budget. A transportation committee has formed, and they have assessed the transportation needs and wants of the congregation. The finance committee has said the church has the ability to buy. So, what next?

Q: What should a church consider first?
A: Before it is time to select chassis and comfort options, seats, and safety features, there are three fundamental questions that need to be answered by the transportation committee:
* Does the church want to add wheelchair capability to the bus?

* In addition to the wheelchair capability, how many ambulatory passengers will the bus need to carry?

* Will the church need a luggage area separate from the passenger compartment? 
Q: What chassis features and comfort options are available?
A: Once the three fundamental questions have been answered and the floor plan has dictated the wheelbase, and to some degree, engine size, the decisions regarding upgraded chassis features begin. Should the exhaust be moved to blow street side driver side rather than street side or passenger side? Will the church need to add a Fast Idle? What kind of exterior mirror options? Without doubt, the selection of a larger AC system and the addition of an upgraded suspension system are the most popular upgrades.

Comfort options that continue to be popular include overhead storage bins with individual lights, DVD players with drop-down LCD screens, CD Players, and electric doors with exterior key locks.

More and more churches are seeing their moving ministry as advertisement for their mission. The standard name and address on the exterior of the bus now includes logos, slogans, and Bible verses pertinent to the church's mission.

Q: What are the various options regarding seats?
A: The traditional mid-high and high-back seat with recliners, seat sliders, footrest, and upgraded cloth fabric remain popular. But, there are numerous options available today above and beyond the standards of yesterday, as churches have become concerned not only with comfort for the members, but also with their safety and longevity of the interior features.

We see more churches purchasing aisle-side armrests and a grab handle for each seat, which is a great benefit for senior adults. Upgraded fabric options now include materials that are anti-bacterial and anti-microbial. Still popular and easy to use are the seat- sliders, which allow aisle seats to slide further into the aisle about three or four inches to allow a few more inches in elbow room between seated passengers. Churches also see the benefit of having a raised floor option to minimize the protrusion of the wheel wells for seated passengers in that area.

Perhaps the most popular addition is that of seatbelts within church buses. Though more expensive than the traditional lap belt or retractable seat belt, the Under Seat Retractors (USR) have become popular. For those who will provide wheelchair capability, the Tie Down Storage System (TDSS) eliminates storage bags and lost belts.

Q: What safety features should be considered?
A: In addition to the standard back-up alarm, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and road emergency kit, today's baby boomer population has brought to attention the need for safety features above and beyond standard requests. These upgraded requests include additional assist rails on both sides of the bus entry door, padded stanchion poles, additional interior lighting, and flooring that is non-slip, non-skid. Drivers of larger vehicles are also very happy with the addition of exterior sensors and/or cameras that detect objects behind the bus.

When you pair the dedication of a committee in assessing the wants and needs of a church congregation with an experienced and well-respected consultative salesman, you are one wheel closer to ensuring a perfect fit of vehicle to the church congregation.

Lori Southern is the vice president of national accounts for CommTrans, www.commtrans.com.

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