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Bus Buying Considerations
By: Bruce McGinnis

Every church has its own unique transportation problems. The solution lies in figuring out which type of bus best suits your needs and budget. Too often, a church will buy a bus and assume its transportation problems are over, only to find that the learning curve has just begun.

Here is a familiar scenario. Your bus ministry team or boards of trustees purchases an old school bus. If you have an older school bus, insurance may be a problem. Assuming the bus is insurable, now you are ready for your first trip. In most states, your drivers must have a Commercial Driver License with the proper endorsements: passenger transport, air brakes, standard transmission, etc. Each state has its own regulations. Being familiar with California, it will be used as the example in the following paragraphs.

The bus is still yellow. The color must be changed since it is no longer a school bus, and it must pass a California Highway Patrol inspection (and it is not easy to pass.) You must apply for a CA number and it must be posted on the bus. The awful truth has invaded the air of excitement. The purchase price was low, but the cost of readying and maintaining a tired old bus is sky high!

With everything in place, you take your first trip: a one-day outing to a local attraction. Thirty-five people signed up to ride the bus. Of the 35, only 17 children and three adults show up to ride the bus. The rest decide to take their own cars. The reason? A school bus is designed to transport children.  t is hard to convince adults to bump along on with tight seating, forsaking the comfort and freedom of their cars. Another reason? It is warm outside and your bus does not have air-conditioning (most school buses don't).  Your future adult rider ship falls to just one person: the driver!

So what is the answer to your transportation situation? First, examine your needs and evaluate the established goals for your bus ministry. Your questions should include:  

* Whom are we transporting - children, teens, seniors (one size fits all does not work)? 
* Where will we have it serviced and repairs made?
* How many miles a week, a month, year, what type of budget do we need for maintenance?
* Short trips or long? If it goes on long trips, a contingency plan needs to be made in case it breaks down.
* Do we really need luggage space, an air-conditioning system, a wheelchair lift, a lavatory, etc. or is it just a want not a need?

Also, does your church have a school and are you planning to use the bus to transport children from home to school, as well as activities? If so, then the bus must be yellow and meet the school bus regulations for your state. This requires many more hoops to jump through.
Different Types of Buses

Mini buses are usually built on Ford Cutaway Chassis and are best for around town trips, seat 15-25 passengers, have gas or diesel engines, and are easy to drive. Maintenance is similar to that of a full-size van, and, like vans, and they have are relatively light duty.

They are well-suited for adults and seniors with comfort items like air conditioning, nice seating, and large windows.

School buses are used mostly for short trips (less than 100 miles per day). They are heavy-duty and provide substantial safety in case of an accident. School buses allow for seating for up to 50 teens or adults and are relatively inexpensive when comparing per-passenger cost.

City buses are designed for a stop-and-go service. They can operate in hard service and have easy entrance and access for passengers. They ride smooth and have air-conditioning, but require much more maintenance cost than school buses or mini buses. These units are not good on dirt roads but are ideal for a remote parking lot service.

Coaches or tour buses are great for over-the-highway travel. All components are heavy-duty. They feature reclining seats with up to 55 capacity, with a lavatory, luggage bays, and air conditioning. This type of vehicle was designed for long trips with a million miles of service life. However, operating a bus of this type requires more time, effort, and money.
Condition and Maintenance
Once you decide on the type needed, list associated costs: insurance license plates, etc. Formulate a budget for operating costs. Figure high and make sure everyone understands preventive maintenance does not represent a cost to the church; rather, it is part of ownership. A successful bus ministry operates safe, well-maintained equipment.

If your budget is $10,000 or less, now is not the time to purchase a bus. A reliable bus for that price is not likely.

Condition is more important than price. SHOP! Don't buy on impulse. Have a certified mechanic of your choosing (preferably the person that will be doing the maintenance once you buy it) perform a thorough inspection before you buy. 

Otherwise, you will have no idea of the vehicle's true condition and you won't be able to estimate initial repair costs. Before you put the bus in service, perform all needed repairs and establish a maintenance and inspection schedule as per manufacturer’s recommendations.

When properly planned and budgeted, a bus ministry can be extremely successful. Bus transportation can open up new areas for growth, save money, and provide safer transportation than operating vans.
Bruce McGinnis is with A-Z Bus Sales,  www.a-zbus.com.

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