Whenever travel on the highways is involved, safety should be a top priority. That is no less so when selecting a bus company for your tour, whether it be going to the Lower East Side to check out Jewish heritage sites or your organization's trip to Broadway.
One issue that is up front for you to actually see is the tour bus itself. The age of the fleet of buses used by a tour bus company should be considered. It should be obvious that the latest models of buses should be in the fleet. The latest, the better.
Many companies say that they replace their buses after 10 years of service. They also point out that there are bus companies that own buses as old as 25 years.
In short, you don't want the transportation you will be using to be too old. Inquire with the bus tour company about the age of their fleet.
If at all possible, go to the tour bus company and inspect their buses. Check the interior, the exterior and underneath. Look at the tires, including the tread depth, and examine the seat covers, dents, bumps, scratches and cleanliness.
If things look good after a visual inspection, don't be afraid to ask questions concerning things you don't see. And that would be how often the buses are analyzed by the company's mechanics. It is not uncommon for well-managed tour-bus companies to have their mechanics inspect things every time a bus returns to the garage.
The driver of a tour bus, not the president of the tour-bus company, is probably the most important employee. When push comes to shove, it is the skills of the driver that assure that the bus gets to its destination on time and that the trip is safe.
Of course, you would expect that the driver has experience. Industry standards call for the driver to have at least three years experience. Some companies are stricter than that and call for them to have as much as five or more.
Certainly, the more experience they have, the more skilled they are in driving the bus. But they are also knowledgeable of the routes they are expected to drive and would be well-seasoned to be able to find alternative routes should the need arise.
An important element is assuring that you get to the destination on time. What good is going to the Jewish Museum in New York if you're not going to get there in time for the scheduled lecture?
You will want the driver to be emotionally balanced. It's been said that there are three types of drivers (not necessarily bus drivers): the passive, the aggressive and the hostile. Of course, you want a driver who is passive. You would expect him to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, not speed, slow down when it is raining, drive with caution at night.
You also want the driver to be alert when he is driving and drug free. To assure that drugs are not an issue, there are laws that require companies to test prospective drivers during the hiring process and then to administer random drug tests.
You want the driver's schedule to be such that it doesn't change his sleep patterns. Commonly, drivers are expected to work 10 hours. A driver who has a schedule of sleeping at night should stick to that. He should not be expected to drive all night.
The longer a company has been in business the better chance that it will be well-managed and have a good safety record.
How to research a company's record? Go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration site (www.fmcsa.dot . gov), which includes a safety and security page that provides you with all sorts of information, including a safety database, a snapshot or profile of particular companies, and safety initiatives.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense (www. ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/Passenger/ home.asp) have regulations that tour-bus companies are expected to follow. For example, the Department of Transportation requires tour-bus companies to assure that their drivers are fully qualified. Companies that comply urge that their drivers have a current commercial driver's license with a passenger endorsement, undergo a thorough physical and hold a valid medical certificate.
The U.S. Department of Defense is involved in regulating motor-coach safety because these companies are often used by military personnel, and the DOD wants to make certain that their troops are safe. The DOD monitors the bus industry through the Military Traffic Management Command. This part of the DOD implements and maintains a "pre-qualification" process.
Finally, nothing is perfect. Things go wrong. The best companies, however, provide a mechanism to make the wrong right. To assure that such a remedy can take place, you should find out who to contact at the company when something does go wrong.