By David Hubbard
No way are teenagers on a band trip going to hang complacently on their assigned coach when one-fifth of the group is cruising in style aboard the double deck up ahead.
“Everyone wants a turn on the double deck,” says J.D. Wilson, who opened Coastal Coaches, Panama City, FL, in September with his business partner Debbie Vanpay. “In this case the band director usually has to revise the plan and rotate the groups through the double deck each day of the trip.”
It gets a lot of attention
“This coach is a whole different animal than what most people are used to seeing and it gets a lot of attention for our young company,” says Wilson. “It is working out about like we thought. On a recent shuttle to a local arts festival, we booked eight more trips from band directors stopping by just to take a look inside our double deck coach.”
It has been three years since ABC Companies, Faribault, MN, and the Belgium bus builder Van Hool, introduced the TD925 in North America.
Adapted for the U.S. market, the ADA-compliant two-door vehicle stands 13-feet high — 18 inches taller than the standard motorcoach with seating for up to 81 passengers. Standard features include cameras, seatbelts and escape hatches, onboard restroom, rear stairs and luggage area.
The first TD925 revamped for American operators went to Coach USA in 2007 to further enhance its Megabus brand in the United States.
A competitive edge
John Oakman says customers continue to choose Megabus because of its double deck coaches, which he says most decidedly gives the company a competitive edge. Amenities include new double-deck buses with free Wi-Fi, reclining seats and power outlets.
“Our acquisition of the TD925s was an enormous project when we initiated this service,” he says. “There is always room for expansion and we certainly see more of these double deck coaches for Megabus in the future.”
Oakman says Megabus has a dedicated fleet of 15 TD925s specially built, domiciled and registered in Canada to operate on the Toronto-Montreal run with seven making the Montreal to New York City commute.
Megabus.com recently launched a program to stimulate travel in 2010 by offering 100,000 free seats through March to lucky customers who book early, meaning many customers will most likely get the bonus of the double deck experience.
Today coach operators across the country putting this new generation low floor double deck coach into service for every reason from economy and increased passenger capacity. They say the response from their customers has been overwhelming in their reaction to the sheer visual impact of the vehicle, and thrilling views from the upper level, not to mention its overall ease on the environment.
Refine the specifications
DATTCO executives traveled to the Van Hool plant in Belgium to refine the specifications and features they wanted for their extensive order of new coaches that included two ADA-compliant TD925 double decks, and took note of the creativity ABC Companies and Van Hool applied in outfitting its 10 TD925s for line-run to luxury tours. The company runs seven to nine double decks for Megabus on its Boston to New York City run and maintains three for its own charters.
DATTCO, like every company running the TD925, has discovered the most obvious advantage of this coach — the capability to fit most charter groups onto one coach instead of two.
“The TD925 is especially attractive for student groups,” says DATTCO President Don DeVivo. “Where the typical class size is 35 students, schools are discovering the convenience and economy of chartering the one double deck instead of two partially filled 56-seat coaches. The students, of course, find a lot of entertainment value in the TD925s.”
Coach industry veteran Lanny Rogers, owner of First Class Tours, Houston, TX, with his two sons, Lanny Jr. and Jeff, is no stranger to innovative vehicles. Before his launch of First Class Tours in 1998, he operated Gray Line of Houston with a fleet of 110 coaches, and at one time experimented with the rare Prevost 560 articulated coach.
He intended to operate First Class Tours with no more than three coaches just to stay busy during retirement. Today the operation maintains a fleet of 30 Prevost H3-45s and XLs, as well as the two new TD925 Van Hool double decks.
“Our primary business was a casino run into southwest Louisiana,” says Rogers. “As business grew and our fleet expanded, we realized we could use a higher capacity vehicle. We were immediately drawn to the TD925 when we saw it for the first time at the UMA Expo in Orlando, FL.”
Even at that, Rogers says he has always specified seating on his coaches for fewer passengers to allow more room and comfort. Instead of the standard 82-seat configuration, Rogers went with 69 spaces for his two double decks.
“The extra legroom just makes a three-hour ride to the casinos a nicer part of the experience,” he says. “We also had ABC Companies install 12 smaller television monitors throughout.”
High praise for the ride
Rogers says in addition to the casino trips, First Class Tours also has sent its TD925 on charters to Orlando, Atlanta and Las Vegas. While he has high praise for the ride of the coach, his only concern for longer trips is its limited luggage space.
Dennis Copyak, general manager for LeBus, Salt Lake City, UT, says the company once owned a 1985 Neoplan double deck, purchased from a casino in Wendover, NV.
“We started our own casino run in 1998 with this bus,” says Copyak. “It became obsolete pretty fast, but it certainly primed our thinking about double deck coaches when we revisited the idea for the Van Hool TD925.”
LeBus purchased it primarily for the casino run, but Copyak says upon taking delivery New Year’s Eve 2008, he immediately booked its first trip as a charter to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA, as the result of positive television coverage from a local news station.
“Talk about a maiden voyage,” says Copyak. “We had to attach an additional luggage trailer behind the coach to accommodate our 73 passengers. The charter was for 40 and we sold the additional seats separately.”
Two coaches to do the work of four
Alexandre Agentes, a coach driver for nine years in Orlando, FL, launched Caravan Service Transportation in August 2009 after convincing his Brazilian investment partner to open a bus company. Starting with three pre-owned Van Hools, the investor needed only one look a TD925 on his next visit to make the purchase. Now Agentes is about to trade one of his T2100s to purchase one more double deck, which he says will allow two coaches to do the work of four.
The fleet of Van Hools that now includes four TD925 double decks helped launch Sightline Tours, Vancouver, BC, Canada, last year. A division of Seattle-based motorcoach company MTR Western, the company sees the coaches as the complement to the spectacular and inviting surroundings in around Vancouver Island and Whistler, site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
MTR president Darren Berg says the mission of the tour operation has been to offer an enhanced per capita sightseeing product comparable to the five-star level of service delivered on the cruise ships arriving and departing from Vancouver.
The twp most recent double decks feature glass rooftops and further refinements to the interior appointments.
GeoGenius is the signature amenity, the proprietary GPS-triggered audio/video tour information system Berg has developed for MTR Western. Historical and travel-related content presented on large flat screen monitors augment the tour itineraries with what are essentially mini-documentary features on the various sites and attractions.
In Glendale, AZ, Eugene Bronson, owner of Michelangelo Leasing and Divine Transportation, happened to be looking for something new and different when the TD925 came on market. He says though he did take a wait and see approach at first, the double deck Van Hool certainly had his attention.
His initial skepticism was for older passengers having aversions to climbing the stairs.
“I was mistaken on that point,” says Bronson. “Anyone who can climb the stairs just loves the views from the upper deck. Overall I would say we hit a home run with our TD925.”