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Considerations in Purchasing a Church Bus
By: Andy Rubin

There are many things to consider when purchasing a church bus, such as the reputation of the dealer, the quality of the vehicle, the price, the church's needs and its available drivers. Many times, when a church upgrades from the 15-passenger van to a shuttle bus, the church is starting with something entirely unknown to them. 

In other cases, a church is replacing a bus that is more than 10 years old and is not aware of what is available today. Several new features have become available in church buses in recent years. These new features should be considered when purchasing a new or used church bus.

First and foremost, newer safety options should be considered. These options include upgrades in seatbelts, wheelchair restraints, electronic sensors and cameras, and activity buses. 

On the electronics side of safety, the backup camera and/or sensor have become very popular.  For less than $1,000, one can equip a vehicle with a camera that will engage when the bus is in reverse to show what is behind the vehicle.

Larger vehicles can also be equipped with side cameras to show the traffic in the adjacent lane.  These cameras are usually activated with the turn signals. For church and daycare buses, interior surveillance cameras can be added that are similar to those equipped in classrooms. This will give you a record of what happened inside the vehicle in the event of an accident.

Regarding seatbelts, there is no federal legislation regarding seatbelt use in buses over 10,000lb GVWR, but this could change in the future. Most church buses have two-point seat belts, which only fasten across the hips. However, three-point lap and shoulder belts are now widely available and are recognized as the most effective type of restraint. Buyers should be aware that these types of seatbelts would increase the weight requirements and cost of any vehicle in which they are installed and are only recommended as a new installation.

Wheelchair restraints have also developed in the last several years. They are now much easier to operate with several automatic tensioning or locking mechanisms and easier restraint to floor anchoring systems, such as L-Track and Solo or Slide-n-Click floor anchors. These options make securing a wheelchair occupant safely a much easier and quicker proposition.

Another recent development in the bus market is the Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB). This bus meets all federal safety standards for a school bus, but it can be any color and does not have stop arms or warning lights. They are often equipped with air conditioning and more comfortable "activity seats." This bus is an excellent option for a church that also has a school or daycare and does not want to buy two separate buses for the children and seniors.

Most church transportation committees are also unaware of the several chassis and engine configurations available for church buses today. Many parishioners assume that a diesel engine is the best option for any bus, but there are several gasoline engines available today that get satisfactory fuel mileage and will also last as long as most diesels.

There is also a considerable up charge, sometimes over $12,000, for a diesel engine in a small bus cutaway chassis today. That alone will end the usual argument of gas vs. diesel on the bus committee. 

Depending upon your climate, adequate heating and air conditioning is an important concern for must purchasers. There is more to consider in an air conditioning system than just output, which is usually measured in BTUs. The system will be either a dual compressor or tie-in. A dual compressor system has an additional compressor other than the stock chassis.

This gives greater cooling than a tie-in and is usually more efficient. A tie-in system that uses the OEM compressor with an added evaporator and condenser is less expensive and will usually work for smaller buses in cool climates. 

Video and electronics have made quite a few advancements over the past five years. Many churches now outfit their buses with DVD players and video screens. The cost of these options has decreased considerably in the last five years, and now a one-screen system can cost less than $1,500. 

Mobile Internet access using a wireless router is also readily available, but this will incur a monthly fee. Tour and charter companies are widely using the wireless Internet, as well as mobile satellite television, and the cost of these options is likely to go down in the future.

All of these options can be put on most any size bus. However, the drivers you have available can determine the size of the bus you purchase. Any bus that has a capacity of more than 15 including the driver will require a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). This license is not difficult to obtain, but it does require a written and driver's test, Department of Transportation (DOT) physical, and possible other testing. One should consult his or her state DOT for specifics. 

Regardless of church size, it can be a burden on a church to maintain a group of CDL drivers. A shuttle bus can range from 14 to 45 passengers, so there are many that require a CDL, and the cost per passenger can be much less than a non-CDL, but the licensing is a prime consideration.

A bus can be a great asset to the church ministry.  It can allow you to transport youth groups, seniors and the church body to events in a much safer manner than the 15-passenger van or even the "church caravan."

There are many reputable dealers available that can assist in finding the right bus for a church; however, these elements should be taken into consideration when purchasing a church bus.

Andy Rubin is in commercial bus sales for Mid-South Bus Center, www.thebuscenter.com.

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