Churches roll with bigger, better buses

By Tony Sippel

When it comes to church group transportation, bigger might be better. Today’s commercial buses are attracting more and more interest, thanks to advancements in design and technology.

Churches have long benefitted from a wide range of vehicle size choices, with their purchase decisions primarily impacted by passenger capacity and driver certification. Under U.S.

Department of Transportation regulations, any vehicle designed to carry more than 15 people, including the driver, requires the operator to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

That restriction, along with factors like fuel costs, comfort and maneuverability, often steered churches toward smaller vehicles. But buyers and sellers alike say that’s changing.

CDLs are required
Because commercial buses have more to offer than ever before, church customers are more willing to obtain the CDLs required to operate them. Jeff Madura, sales manager at Colonial Equipment in Washington, D.C., says he has seen interest from church customers trending away from smaller vehicles as they discover the benefits of vehicles built on commercial bus chassis.

“We’re seeing a lot of churches looking into buses that have the capacity for 25 passengers or more,” Madura says. “In the past, we fielded more inquiries about 14-passenger buses. And customers are doing their homework and have an idea of what they’re looking for before they come in.”

Often, some preconceived notions have been reshaped as church executives discover the advantages of commercial buses.

Hybrid-electric engines
Today’s commercial bus chassis offerings include options such as hybrid-electric engines. In the short term, a hybrid engine may be eligible for a substantial federal tax credit, while the fuel savings will pay off in the long run. For example, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation’s MB-HEV commercial bus chassis has been shown to reduce fuel consumption by more than 40 percent with no compromise of operating efficiency.

In terms of drivability, newer technologies for commercial bus chassis are significantly more maneuverable than those of the past. Several commercial bus chassis boast a 60-degree wheel cut, which allows for easier navigation through busy city streets.

Manufacturers have evolved their approaches to driver and passenger comfort, as well.

Tony Sippel, RV product manager at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation.


Is your church taking precautions with drivers of its vans?

What church fleets need to know about passenger van safety and negligent entrustment.  |  By Rachel Bragg

Did you know 15-passenger vans, widely perceived as the most “unstable, dangerous vehicles on the road,” do not require that a driver carry a commercial driver’s license? Buses designed to carry 16 passengers or more do.

While this may be an unfortunate characterization of the 15-passenger van, it is important that a group which employs vehicles of either capacity be aware of the facts. Churches who manage fleets, or hire fleet drivers independently, should take the necessary and appropriate actions to ensure the safety of their congregations, while protecting their own financial health.

Human error is the absolute leading cause of any car, truck, van or bus crash. That’s why in 1997 the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a press release stating that a crash is not an accident. To use the term “accident” falsely implies that the crash was out of human control.

Take, for example, the 2010 fatal church van collision in Highland Mills, NY, involving driver Bernard Lattibeaudiere. His license, it was later discovered, had been suspended 25 times.

It is entirely possible that the church could be held liable in the case of a negligent entrustment lawsuit by the surviving victims of this crash.

The first step that could have been taken to prevent this tragedy was to properly screen Lattibeaudiere. A driver – whether volunteer, hired through a personal acquaintance or contracted by a third-party service provider – should be thoroughly checked out with the state for any infractions on his or her license and trained according to the standards and satisfaction of the church.

A second safeguard would be to establish a company driver policy that must be read, understood and signed by all of its employees and volunteers — whether they plan to get behind the wheel or not. For more information on 15-passenger safety or negligent entrustment, visit

Rachel Bragg is vice president of Business Development, BrightFleet, Sanford, FL.


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