First Priority Trailways, based in Forestville, MD, opened in 1999 with a single motorcoach. Now, their fleet has grown to include as many as 25 coaches in the 18 years since. The company, founded by President Marcia Milton, runs charters for all manner of clientele – student groups, athletics, government contractors and employees – and has participated as an official transportation provider of every presidential inauguration since 2000.
The company has also provided buses twice to the Democratic National Convention, as well as to the memorial services of Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy. As a motorcoach business involved in such high-profile operations, it is imperative that First Priority Trailways’ passengers feel a sense of accommodation when they step on a bus. To that end, the company provides free Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment for all its passengers, their safety ensured by state-of-the-art fleet management and electronic driver logging.
Milton says that an accommodating atmosphere has always been something on which First Priority Trailways prides itself, but managing the logistics was becoming a bit of a problem.
“Our connectivity and entertainment solutions, as well as our vehicle and driver management tools were each handled through different vendors,” she says. “We wanted more of an all-in-one solution, mainly because we needed more efficient support if something technical went wrong. We were looking for more responsiveness, which I thought was lacking in our vendor at the time.”
First Priority Trailways began a bidding process in hopes of finding a single vendor for all of the aforementioned solutions. Milton says the company ranked vendors based on reliability, price and responsiveness.
Ultimately, they settled on a local option – United Bus Technology (UBT) from nearby McLean, VA.
“Funnily enough, Marcia and I serve on the National Association of Motorcoach Operators Board of Directors,” says Tim Wilson, director of UBT. “I was a coach operator in my previous life, so we had a longstanding peer relationship and a natural trust.”
UBT allowed First Priority Trailways to pilot their products, followed by a 30-day free trial. At the end of the test period, Milton informed Wilson that she would like a proposal for UBT to enter into agreement with First Priority. The agreement would allow First Priority Trailways to cancel the partnership at any point if they were to be displeased with UBT’s service, as UBT does not lock partners into any type of restrictive contracts.
“We have found UBT to be very trustworthy, which is a huge positive,” Milton says. “We saw the fact they they didn’t lock us into a contract as a major benefit.”
UBT’s flagship product is the NetBox, and it provides an all-in-one solution for the four main functions which First Priority Trailways was seeking:
• Mega WiFi provides unlimited 4G LTE Wi-Fi through T-Mobile, capable of serving more than 70 passengers at a time.
“If you don’t have Wi-Fi, customers instantly assume they’re on an older bus,” Wilson says. “It’s essential in today’s transportation, and we were happy to provide it at a significantly reduced cost for First Priority Trailways.”
• OnCoach CINEMA® is a proprietary software and hardware that allows First Priority Trailways to offer onboard movies which passengers can watch from their own personal device, whether that’s a cellphone, laptop or tablet. It offers a library of televisions shows, 25 premium movies and other non-premium content. It also allows First Priority to have a customized, branded movie player application.
• MegaTrac is UBT’s own fleet management system designed specifically for motorcoach operators. It provides GPS tracking, fuel reports, scheduling, dispatch and driver communication.
“With today’s regulations and stringent safety standards, it has become imperative for carriers to track their fleet, so they know exactly what’s going on everywhere, in real time,” Wilson says.
• An Electronic Logging Device (ELD) solution, fully implemented across the entire First Priority Trailways fleet
Wilson says that First Priority opted for self-installation of the NetBox, and that the contract-to-installation period wrapped in just over three weeks.
“We try to keep back-and-forth at a minimal,” Wilson says, “so as not to impede with the day-to-day business of our customers. Once we have a deal signed, we conduct an implementation meeting so that we can gauge the operator’s requirements. From there we customize the software with the operator’s branding and then deploy it to all devices via the cloud.”
UBT staff conducted training on the Wi-Fi, entertainment and fleet management with First Priority Trailways’ administrative staff, who then trained the drivers. The drivers, in turn, will train charter passengers to use the system as they begin a trip.
“The trainer being someone with driving experience, as it was with UBT, really helps,” Milton says. “They can empathize with the drivers and know some of their issues, unlike cases where it’s someone who’s never driven a bus.”
First Priority Trailways and UBT are handling ELD training in a second phase. Wilson trained the company’s fleet manager, who will then manage the drivers and audit the electronic logs. UBT’s product manager conducted company-wide log training for drivers.
Reaping the benefits
Milton says the drivers have praised the new system’s ease of use, as well as the support network associated with it.
“It just makes their lives easier,” she says. “They don’t have to work with DVD players or deal with a customer’s DVDs not working. The device is very simple to use and, best of all, they get quick, helpful support from a real, live person at UBT if anything malfunctions.”
Passengers, Milton says, are thrilled with the prospect of downloading their own entertainment – whether that’s movies, eBooks, online news or even just their emails. “The options are what’s important,” she says.
She says she expects overall safety to increase exponentially as the ELD program ramps up. Drivers are, as the mandate specifies, more cognizant of their hourly driving as well as the time it will take them to get home.
“I think this keeps First Priority Trailways competitive in what is already a very competitive D.C. charter market,” Wilson says. “It’s a saturated market so charter companies are everywhere. Operators are looking for anything they can do to differentiate themselves – safety, aesthetics, driver professionalism and state-of-the-art technology – which will provide the tipping point for a customer to choose one operator over another. First Priority is well positioned in that regard.”
Milton says she is confident that First Priority Trailways is at the forefront of providing quality service to charter passengers.
“We are always trying to stay a step ahead of the industry, to provide as many benefits as possible for our passengers and give them a pleasurable travel experience.”
“Convenience is the way of the world right now,” Milton adds, “so our partnership with UBT is a win-win situation for us and our customers.”