WHO'S DRIVING: Putting maintenance ahead of dispatch keeps coaches on track Successful operators know that preventative maintenance is the cornerstone of a safe, profitable operation, taking precedence even over dispatch and tour or charter sales. After all, a coach that's well-maintained is one that's less likely to break down or need an emergency repair — and is more likely to keep passenger groups congratulating themselves for choosing the best. Holiday Tours keeps the calendar marked Great operators already know this, of course, whether they run a few coaches or hundreds. Paul Bonde, general manager of Holiday Tours in Caseyville, Illinois, runs his family company with his wife, Cathy, who serves as president. An ex-military man, he says he's always been disciplined about maintenance. The company has seven full-size coaches. "We try really hard to maintain these vehicles so we don't have issues on the highway," says Bonde. "We watch our coaches closely, and we may do scheduled service early if otherwise the coach will be on a trip and exceed its service interval." Bonde says that his company's small size makes keeping an eye on maintenance a little easier. He has one regular, trusted technician on staff, and Bonde himself pays a lot of attention to which coaches are coming and going. In addition to frequent checks of specific systems, Holiday Tours makes sure that all of its coaches undergo a thorough check every 10,000 miles. Says Bonde,
"We check everything that could fail us."
Bonde knows that bad things can happen to even good coaches — like the
time a turkey buzzard flew into a coach windshield, shattering it out in
the middle of Kansas. "The worst feeling in the whole wide world is
when I've got a motor coach on the side of a highway with passengers. It
can be expensive, too; you need to find someone to pick up your group,
find someone to fix the coach, and, if not, get it towed."
In the case of Bonde's turkey buzzard, the company got lucky — they
found someone to pick up their group, and someone with a windshield, all
within two and a half hours on Memorial Day weekend. Fortunately, such
accidents are rare. But it drives home the point of being prepared when
possible. Says Bonde, "It's a machine. Anything can go wrong at any
time. That's why we try to be so proactive."
Cherrey on top of PM
Cherrey Bus Lines, which is headquartered in Listowel, Ontario, and
operates in both Canada and the U.S., has plenty of inspection schedules
to which it must adhere by law, but it's not regulations that keep them
prioritizing preventative maintenance. It's a desire to "be on guard
for anything and everything that can go wrong," says Allan Cherrey,
owner. "If we're changing a tire, we're looking at the brakes. If we're
cleaning the interior, we're also checking that the safety windows open
Cherrey maintains that maintenance is the higher priority over dispatch.
"We'd be doing this maintenance even if we didn't have regulations,"
says Cherrey. "A dollar spent on preventative maintenance in your own
shop is worth five out on the road."
Cherrey is careful to make sure that coaches are scheduled for
preventative maintenance, even when that means servicing a coach early,
ahead of a trip that might take it past its maintenance due date.
With about a seven-to-one coach-to-mechanic ratio, the company is also
conscious of using its down time in winter to do thorough servicing on
its 24 coaches (the company also runs school buses). And seasonality
counts. "If we're running a coach to Florida, we want to make sure the
air conditioning is ready," says Cherrey. "If we're running into the
winter season, we make sure all the things that are impacted by cold
weather, like our ProHeat® and diesel heaters, are working, and that our
air dryers are serviced."
To help keep track, the company uses a mix of tracking software,
automated driver reporting and plain old planning. Cherrey is also a
stickler for a clean bus, and the habit of cleaning and refueling each
coach nightly adds an extra level of vigilance. Says Cherrey, "No one
likes to sit in someone else's garbage."
There's another reason that Cherrey Bus Lines, which has been running
coaches for 40 years, is so dedicated to preventative maintenance: It's
part of a family tradition. Cherrey himself is a trained technician, as
was his father before him. His three brothers were also trained as
mechanics, with one working at the company, and Allan's technician son
works there as well. They participate in MCI Webinars to keep their
knowledge base fresh, and they've participated in MCI Maintenance
Councils as well.
"We don't want our buses on the side of the road," says Cherrey, who is
always prepared to tap MCI's ERSA network as well as fellow UMA members
—just in case. "We do our preventative maintenance, and I've never
sacrificed the safety of passengers or a driver."
Eyre apparent in maintenance
Matt Eyre, president of Eyre Bus, Tour and Travel, Glenelg, Maryland,
describes his company's preventative maintenance program as "robust."
And with nearly 60 coaches, it needs to be.
Buses are inspected regularly, and maintenance needs to sign off on any
that need maintenance before they can go out. A whiteboard on the shop
floor helps everyone keep track, with the further aid of tracking
software and other technology. Not that it's always easy. Says Eyre,
"Coaches may need cleaning or maintenance, or return later than
anticipated, or have breakdowns that interfere with scheduling. It's a
moving animal, and there are constant changes that affect when a coach
will go out."
"We have a 24-hour shop," says Eyre, who assumed leadership of the
65-year-old family company this year. "It's a team effort. We're all
committed to our mission statement, 'Excellence in Travel.' We have
great people, and that's what makes the difference."
It's that kind of dedication that keeps the company making proactive
decisions, like replacing alternators after 200,000 miles, whether or
not they're showing signs of wear. Not only does it keep more coaches
running, but it also helps keep them running cool in summer, because
Eyre realizes that many AC issues are actually alternator issues.
And when the company finds itself with a little rare downtime,
technicians go over coaches with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. "It's
just too costly to put the customer on the side of the road," says
Eyre. "We do whatever we can to avoid that."
An evolving process
Bonde, Eyre and Cherrey all say that maintenance programs evolve over
time. Says Bonde, "Over the years, you find new things to check. First
you start checking AC brushes. Then you check a particular set of hoses.
Over months and years, it becomes a routine." Says Cherrey, "It's
something you have to grow into."