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Buses And Vans
By: Sheldon Walle

What information would be helpful to you, as a church leader, in sourcing the transportation equipment that is just right for you? Here are some of the most commonly asked questions by churches when it comes to buses and vans.

Will we need any type of special training or licensing to operate a commercial bus?
In terms of licensing, depending on your state, the vehicle may need to be registered differently than a personal vehicle. Your state motor vehicle department can advise you on this matter.

If the vehicle carries more than 16 passengers (including the driver), the operator needs to have a commercial driver's license (CDL). These are not that difficult to obtain with some additional training, which is also available through the motor vehicle department.

A good point to consider regarding van cutaway buses is that the operator compartment is a very typical automotive environment, much like a pickup truck or a cargo van. Thus, most people are immediately comfortable in this setting. The most important thing to remember is you're wider, taller, and longer than a typical vehicle, which must always be taken into account. Some "reminder" decals in the operator compartment are always a good idea. 

Where can I go to test drive a vehicle? 
Once you find an authorized commercial bus dealer, upon contacting them, they will arrange for a test drive. In most cases, they are more than happy to bring the vehicle to your location so others can view and evaluate the vehicle.

The advantage to purchasing the vehicle locally is that not only can a more effective evaluation be done, but if it results in a purchase, a local dealer who is authorized to sell in your state is obliged to provide all training, after-sale support, parts, and service.

Remember that it is a piece of equipment that is carrying your most valuable cargo—your congregation! 

How do I know what size, features, and options are right for my application?
It is important first to talk with your congregation and get a general consensus of how you plan to use the vehicle. If it is for over-the-road, outreach-type functions, this would require certain different features than if it is used for parking or community shuttling.

It is also possible to find a happy medium that can serve multiple purposes to an acceptable level. An experienced, authorized dealer can take your general input and develop it into a specification and configuration that best meets your overall needs.

In some cases, there seems to be a price differential for vehicles that appear to be similar. Why is that?
There is an old saying that "if it appears too good to be true, it probably is." The best way to make a real "apples to apples" comparison is to see, touch, and drive the vehicles in person.

Commercial buses are also just vehicles. Like a new car or truck, the longer they sit on the dealer's lot, the more motivated the dealer is to sell it. However, make certain you understand why the vehicle has been a slow mover.

Also, if the vehicle is located at a dealer several hundred miles away, they generally know they're not going to have the additional costs of supporting it after the sale; thus, they can lower the selling price.

The fact is that they're all pretty much built on the same types of chassis. Why or how is one body manufacturer better than another?
At the end of the day, you must make your own assessment based on your specific expectations and needs, just as with any purchase. However, a good general checklist would include:

* Local sales and service support
* Years in business and product performance history
* Applicable standards compliance (FMVSS)
* Amount and level of testing (both required and non-required)
* Financial strength
* Facilities
* General achievements (ISO registration, lean manufacturing, etc.)

Sheldon Walle is president and general manager of ElDorado National, www.enconline.com.

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