Notes on a gloomy economy and other bright moments

By Matthew A. Daecher

Not so long ago the government and other optimists were reluctant to acknowledge any sort of economic slowdown, let alone a recession. What a contrast with the here and now. Today there certainly is no shortage of doomsayers.

The government has had to provide funding to save many of the largest companies in the country, while workforces and salaries continue to dwindle across the board. Luckily, the effect of this economic downturn has not been nearly as severe on the passenger transportation industry as it has been on other industries. In fact many companies continue to grow and prosper by finding new opportunities in these difficult times. Even for operations that are not doing so well in these difficult times, there is an upside to these economic woes.

While some people would only equate opportunity as a means to grow a business and make more money, this definition is narrow-minded. Opportunity can and does mean much more. Finding opportunities to refine the business and hone operation processes is possible no matter the state of current business and the ill effects of the economy.

In better economic times driver shortage was problematic in just about all transportation operations. Companies worked long and hard to find qualified and capable candidates. Currently there is an abundance of available applicants. As the result of massive layoffs and early retirement incentives, a much larger field of workers is inundating many transportation companies with applications.

Of course in better times companies needed more drivers to keep up when business was booming. That is not exactly the case today for most bus and motorcoach operators, but still an opportunity to fill out, revise and improve the driver roster.

It goes without saying that most operators will first trim their underperforming or risky drivers from the roster if a decline in business dictates such a move. The old saying, 10 percent of the people in a business create 90 percent of the problems, easily speaks for problem drivers.

Everyone has had an experience or two with problem drivers. The current economic climate presents an opportunity to replace risky drivers who the company felt it could not afford to let go before the tides turned.

One word of caution: Screen any substantially larger field of applicants carefully for those that really want to drive buses, and plan to stick with the job once the economy recovers.

Time itself may present one of the greatest opportunities during a downturn. When business has declined somewhat, owners may find more time in the day for planning that before was taken up in putting out the daily fires and dealing with the daily operational issues. This might be the perfect time to seize the opportunity to devote extra time toward long-awaited improvements to the business.

Maybe this is the time to finally conduct that extra training planned for drivers, or to implement new processes to improve efficiency or compliance, or to put some new customer service initiatives into practice.

Such ideas are not costly and they prove to be a good return on investment down the road. With some extra time available for you, and most likely your employees too, now is a good time to implement these ideas that you were just too busy to get to before.

While opinions vary on when the country will emerge from the current recession, the economic experts have history to back their prognosis that this too will pass and better economic times will return. The best operators want to be sure they have planned and operated wisely so they can take advantage of the opportunities they spotted and prepare for the day the economy recovers.

Matthew A. Daecher is president and CEO of Daecher Consulting Group, Inc., Camp Hills, CA