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Choosing the Right Transportation Means Knowing Your Needs and Exploring Your Options
By: Tony Sippel

Church executives looking to improve group transportation have never had so many options from which to choose. Thanks to constant advancements in design and technology, the right investment now can mean years of reliable, durable and safe travels ahead, whether it involves hauling youth choirs across the country or providing shuttle service to local parishioners.

Of course, in tight economic times, choosing the right vehicle for a particular church's needs and budget means making the most of what the industry has to offer and finding the vehicle that's just the right fit. That means doing homework before opening a single dealer brochure or clicking on a website.

For starters, one of the first questions any church needs to address is that of passenger capacity. Not only will this play a key role in choosing a vehicle, it's also necessary to ensure all drivers will be properly certified.

Under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, any vehicle designed to carry more than 15 people, including the driver, requires the operator to have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). And, while many churches have looked toward smaller vehicles to avoid dealing with that restriction, the increase in options for utilizing a commercial bus chassis has more churches thinking a bit bigger.

Nearly as important as gauging seating capacity is taking a detailed look at how a vehicle will be used.

Consider whether the bus will serve primarily as a passenger pickup vehicle on a route including short trips through stop-and-go city traffic. If so, special attention should be paid to the vehicle's maneuverability by noting the wheel cut, which measures the number of degrees the front wheels can turn from a dead-center position.

Newer commercial bus chassis are significantly more maneuverable than those of the past, with wheel cuts of up to 60 degrees, allowing for much easier navigation through crowded city streets.

Comfort and a smooth ride are always important, but especially if a church's transportation plans regularly include longer on-highway drives. Commercial buses traditionally are built on truck chassis, which are not as focused on passenger comfort and tend to offer a rougher ride. On the other hand, the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) S2C Cutaway commercial bus chassis, for instance, is built on a chassis specifically designed for passenger transport, which makes for a smoother and softer ride than large-capacity buses.

Flexibility when it comes to specific seating configurations or specialized vehicle needs is also a major point of consideration. The FCCC S2C Cutaway commercial bus chassis provides church executives with an option to customize the vehicle so that it is designed to best perform to individual churches' standards.

Whether it's incorporating wheelchair accessibility to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, modifying the driver's area, or altering the cab door configuration, a church executive who accurately defines what is needed will make a better long-term transportation investment.

There also is a wide range of chassis and engine types to consider. Diesel-powered chassis remain a popular choice, even working within budget constraints. Alternative fuel options, however, can pay off in fuel savings over the long run and may also be eligible for a substantial federal tax credit.

A hybrid-electric chassis, for instance, can reduce fuel consumption by incorporating batteries that capture and store energy during braking, then using electricity during regular operation to decrease reliance on fuel. This makes it an ideal choice for usage that includes short runs and frequent stops.

Warranties and protection plans should also play a role in purchasing discussions. Attention should be paid to basic warranty coverage, as well as different mileage allowances and coverage periods based on the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and body manufacturer of the bus.

Often, individual components such as engines, axles, batteries and the transmission will be covered under their own specific plans.

With so many possibilities on the road ahead, patience and diligence are the familiar watchwords in researching and purchasing church transportation.

Face-to-face meetings with manufacturers' representatives and visits to dealerships to discuss specifics are invaluable and informative, whether it's to discuss your best choice for just a few passengers or a few dozen.

Tony Sippel is RV product manager at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation, www.freightlinerchassis.com.

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