Moving beyond the school bus

The most important factors to keep in mind — and questions to ask yourself — when looking for transportation for your congregation

By Ivan Roberts

In many communities, the sight of old school buses repurposed into church transportation is almost as common as … well … regular school buses. When it comes to choosing a bus for their congregations, repurposing an old school bus is seen as the most economical and sensible option by many pastors.
The problem? It simply might not be the best option — especially over the long-term.
With that in mind, we want to help you approach the process of researching and purchasing a bus for your congregation in a better, smarter way.
Size up the situation. The thing about school buses is, they’re made for school! More specifically, they’re made for students of schools, who tend to be much smaller than the adults in your congregation. School buses and their bench seating might be OK for little ones — especially since they’re rarely sitting still — but are much less comfortable
for adults.
Go the distance. This is acutely true when you consider the difference in distances between school buses and what your congregation might cover. By and large, school buses cover relatively short distances. Church buses many times do not, which can amplify the lack of comfort and features your typical school bus offers a congregation — especially on those long road trips.
Shelter your flock. Bench seating. Thin windows. Hard floors. None of these provide much in the way of creature comforts when it comes to the best transportation for your congregation. School buses do not provide the smoothest or most comfortable ride either, especially when compared with commercial or charter buses — which also offer more comfortable seating, improved temperature / climate control, and quieter interiors. All of which combine to make a big difference when you have a congregation that can take a lot of trips — and cover a lot of miles.
Find some space. Longer and more frequent road trips generally mean your passengers will want to bring stuff with them. Again, given their original purpose to move youngsters only very short distances, school buses aren’t renowned for their storage capabilities. Commercial buses, on the other hand, are designed and built with longer trips in mind and, as a result, provide a plethora of on-board and below-deck storage capabilities for large groups.
Know the real cost of ownership. The upfront price for a new or used commercial bus can be daunting for many pastors; however, school buses bring a host of costs that, while more spread out, definitely add up over the life of the vehicle. These costs include the initial investment to repurpose and rehabilitate the school bus, plus ongoing maintenance and fuel costs, both of which can add up over time. Add in the fact that a repurposed school bus simply might not have as long a shelf life for your congregation as a commercial bus — meaning the same investment a second time around just a few years down the road — and it gets a bit clearer what constitutes real cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle for your congregation.
Again, all the factors above combine to give pastors a smarter and more comprehensive checklist to keep in mind when considering official transportation for their congregations. It can seem like the easiest and most economic solution to repurpose an old school bus — but looks, as we all know, can be deceiving. CE

Ivan Roberts is Sales Manager, Commercial Bus for Freightliner Custom Chassis. He has more than 15 years of experience in product testing, quality assurance, engineering and sales — all with the company — and has worked with a multitude of churches and religious organizations to develop and deliver custom vehicle solutions.


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