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Shopping for a New Church Bus
By: Mike Jones

It's hard to imagine a ministry without some type of transportation to pick up parishioners for church, youth trips, mission trips and activities. Our economy has actually increased the number of ministry opportunities.

Until now, the 15-passenger van has been the vehicle of choice for businesses such as daycares, churches, airports, nursing homes, schools, and even the U.S. Army. However, safety data shows that 15-passenger vans are not a safe solution to these transportation needs.

Today, commercial buses 15 passengers plus have become a safe alternative. Not only are commercial buses substantially safer, but they provide comfort and easy access for senior adults, along with luggage space for youth group trips.

Finding a church bus is much easier today than it used to be. The Internet provides an avenue to search for just the right transportation that fits your church needs.

However, there are many bus manufacturers and configurations of buses to choose from, and church leaders can become frustrated in their search. Below are some commonly asked questions of church leaders as they search for a safe and reliable church bus.

How can I afford a bus in this economy?
Many bus dealerships are providing finance and lease options for churches that are affordable.  Low payment options allow the church more budget monies for ministry.

A lease option gives the church the flexibility of a low monthly payment, and it is also a bit less of a commitment than a finance or purchase option. It also allows for several options at the end of the lease, whether to "walk away" and return the bus, lease a new one, or purchase the bus.

What size bus should I be considering?
The most common size bus is a 14 passenger + a driver (often referred to as a 15 passenger).  This size replaces the 15-passenger van and is a much safer and comfortable alternative. Senior adults especially will enjoy the low entry step and ease of getting into their seat in a church bus.  These 15-passenger buses can come equipped with wheelchair lifts or full rear luggage areas to fit your specific needs.

Your ministry may require more capacity, so you may consider a larger bus or multiple 15-passenger buses. Remember, however, that any bus larger than 15 passengers including the driver will require a CDL (Commercial Driver's License).

A 26-passenger bus is also a very popular mid-size bus. This size is usually equipped for longer trips and comfort. The size is not too overwhelming to drive and yet is the right size and price range for many churches.

Larger buses are available as well in the heavy duty chassis from 33 passengers and larger. The price will increase significantly from 26 passengers to anything larger, so keep that in mind.

What about safety?
Safety is the reason to move from a van to a bus. Unlike 12 and 15 passenger vans, the church bus meets all commercial vehicle safety standards. Many of the buses have a steel cage construction that provides rollover and collision protection from a side or rear impact.

Church buses are also engineered to allow for weight to be evenly and safely disbursed between axles and capacities are regulated to prevent overloading the chassis. Dual rear wheels are on most church buses and are a very important part of providing stability in the event of a rear tire losing air pressure or blowout.

Other items that are important safety features are seat belts, an emergency rear door, a roof escape hatch, high mount center brake light, and a safety stanchion behind the driver. These are just a few of the important safety items that a church bus should include.

There are several bus manufacturers. How do I know which one to choose?
It is important that church leaders research and select a company whose staff demonstrates knowledge of the church market. The needs in the church market are different from those of other markets. Not all buses are equipped the same, and only select bus companies specialize in researching and meeting church needs. There is also a disparity between prices and equipment included in models offered by different companies. Be sure to compare.

Where will I service a bus purchased long distance?
Service is always an important question. A church bus requires maintenance like anything else.  Churches generally put minimal miles on a church bus, so maintenance is minimal. They do require regular oil changes, tire rotation, and brake service just like any other vehicle. Most service can be done locally at a Ford or Chevy dealership, regardless of where the bus was purchased. Be sure to partner with a bus company that will be your advocate should any service or warranty work be needed.

While church bus shopping is likely a new venture to you and your church's leaders, there are many models available and knowledgeable representatives eager to assist you. The sooner you transition from a van or old school bus to a church bus, the sooner your church members will enjoy safe, reliable, and affordable transportation.

Mike Jones is sales manager for www.ChurchBus.com.

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