By Richard Tackett
Attending the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) EXPO in 2013 proved to be extremely fortuitous for the three owners of Brookfield, CT, tour bus operator Coach Tours. Ira Steinberg, Michael Neustadt and Kelli Simmons’ growing company had been managing reservations and tour quotes by handwritten bookkeeping and were searching for a solution to streamline that process.
At the time, Coach Tours managed reservations in a notebook – recording one day’s worth of client reservations per page.
“We also had a large file cabinet filled with probably thousands of handwritten quotes,” says Trent Dwyer, operations manager at Coach Tours. “It was alphabetical, and it was sometimes very difficult to locate a quote. If someone originally booked under a group name, but called back using an individual’s name, it was a chore to coordinate. We needed a system that would streamline tour quoting as well as client organization.”
Walking the floor at the conference, the trio of owners met Brian Mann, director of sales at busHive Software, who described the exact system they were looking for – an all-in-one quoting, scheduling, itinerary, invoicing and financial reporting program tailored specifically for motorcoach operators.
“Though the owners met with a few other companies, busHive was the most willing to work with what we were looking for, and the software promised to be very user-friendly,” Dwyer says.
Steinberg and Simmons founded Coach Tours in 1984 with only a few buses. Neustadt joined three
years later and today the company’s fleet stands at 20 deluxe motorcoaches. The company serves New York and Connecticut clientele, delivering motorcoach rentals with services to 48 states and Canada.
At the time of the owners’ initial meeting with busHive, Coach Tours was running 22 motorcoaches – a situation which made the need for busHive’s services even more immediate.
busHive, which began as Easybus in 1997, aims to streamline workflows and recordkeeping across the entire charter process – from the initial quote, to confirmations and contracts, generating driver itineraries, billing and invoicing.
As Mann explains, “When an on operator gets inquiries for quotes, busHive calculates mileage and expected trip duration, then generates a charter price at the operator’s current billing rates. Previously, Coach Tours would use Prophecy (a truck mileage program) to manually calculate quotes using Excel spreadsheets, which was a time-exhaustive process.”
Once a customer books a charter, busHive automatically generates confirmations for the operator. The software customizes contracts’ unique policies, terms and conditions, specifically for Coach Tours.
The system has a built in, fully-integrated dispatching and scheduling estimate, color coded by vehicle. With the click of a button, Coach Tours staff can view a calendar and quickly see what equipment they have available each day. This prevents overbooking, and allows the operator to easily adjust rates for high-demand days.
“Once they do assign a driver and vehicle, our system displays what drivers and what vehicles are available on each day with color coordination,” Mann says. “So, if a driver’s in ‘red,’ that driver may already be driving that day. Alternatively, they may be a part-time driver, they may have requested that day off, or they may go into overtime – there’s a variety of different customizable filters. It allows dispatch and management to efficiently monitor overtime hours, prevent drivers from violating hours-of-service regulations and to prevent reservation conflicts for drivers and vehicles.”
Installation and integration
busHive’s support team integrated its software at the Coach Tours operation using its traditional four-step implementation process: installation, data import, configuration and training.
The first step – simply enough – involved workstation-by-workstation installations of the busHive software.
Next, busHive gathered Coach Tours’ work requirements and imported the operation’s local data into the system – customer names, phone numbers, addresses and emails; as well as vehicle and driver information.
busHive’s configuration phase involves customizing the program to suit Coach Tours. Support staff imports personalized quotes and confirmations, invoices, billing rates and preferred dispatch display information into the system, tailored specifically to Coach Tours.
Finally, busHive handles training based on responsibility. Most training was handled over the phone and web, but busHive can conduct on-site training as necessary.
Mann describes a thoughtful approach: “For dispatch staff who don’t handle quoting or billing, training sessions focused on using the program to see driver availability, tracking personnel hours, and other tailored areas, likewise, those in the billing department receive training on generating quotes, filtering billing rates and sending out invoices.”
“There were some growing pains, as some of the people in our office are not the most technologically savvy,” Dwyer admits. “busHive was very good at working with us. If we ever had part of the system which didn’t work correctly, or didn’t work the way we wanted it to, they were very quick at helping us to make changes.”
For example, Coach Tours differentiates pricing structures for single day and overnight trips. Because of this, the system didn’t originally know that a two-day trip merited a different minimum price – resulting in quotes that were much lower than they should be. Dwyer says that busHive was proactive about correcting the issue and customizing the system to fit Coach Tours’ pricing.
Mann describes the average implementation as a 30 to 90-day time-frame depending on whether custom development and reporting is required.
Benefits and results
Dwyer believes Coach Tours’ reservations, quotes and dispatch and dispatch saw immediate benefits from the busHive system. No longer handling quotes and booking by hand, the system allows the dispatch department to automatically generate most items.
“With busHive, when we change a reservation over to an ordered trip, we use the system to assign a driver, then print a quote and itinerary and send it to the customer,” he explains. “It significantly reduced the time needed for scheduling and it also protects us from double-booking or over-booking a driver, as the systems automatically generated hours of service alerts.”
Furthermore, because Coach Tours’ three owners are very involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, Dwyer says the new motorcoach and charter management system has greatly freed up their time.
“The system lightened everyone’s workload, so there’s much less stress about daily operations, scheduling and dispatching drivers.”
Coach Tours’ improved system means much more responsiveness to customer needs. Whereas staff previously had to run trip modifications through the dated MS-DOS operating system, then print and mail the new quotes and schedules on a periodic basis. Now, Coach Tours sales staff can change a trip within seconds, then instantly send new information to a customer for review and feedback.
Dwyer also believes that the busHive system has greatly enhanced Coach Tours’ pricing accuracy, because it automatically generates mileage based on exact pick-up and drop-off addresses: “The system acts as a failsafe because customer invoices show exact locations and times instead of generalized information.”
“We certainly don’t have to be worried about expansion,” Dwyer says. “The system can easily handle many more buses, so we can work comfortably as our business gets bigger.”
For Brian Mann, spending his career introducing motorcoach operators to busHive software, it’s a narrative that he is very familiar with: “With spreadsheets and older organizational systems, it was much more difficult to grow as a company, and to track or train new employees. With this essential program as part of their overall infrastructure, Coach Tours is in a much better position to expand.”