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Take the bus

June 08, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

For Doris Springer, today's charter bus trips are the ultimate way to travel. The hassle-free, safe and economical trips offer the chance to socialize, sleep or watch the scenery whiz by while riding in more comfort than ever before, she says.

"You have no worries. It's the easy way to go," says Springer, 80, of Hagerstown. "You can just sit back and relax and watch the world go by."

Springer is among the nearly 500 million people who travel by motorcoach each year, says Victor Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association, the largest union of professional bus and motorcoach companies in North America.

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"We're sort of the best-kept secret in the travel industry," Parra says.

Group travel accounts for about 80 percent, and student travel accounts for about 30 percent, of the industry's business, Parra says.

In the Tri-State area, motorcoach companies, such as Bricker Transportation in Chambersburg, Pa., Heartbeat Tours in Charles Town, W.Va., and Atlantic Coast Charters in Hagerstown, offer both trip-planning and charter-only services. Other bus businesses, including D&S Buses in Waynesboro, Pa., offer only buses and drivers for groups that plan their own trips.

Springer organizes about a dozen trips on Atlantic Coast coaches each year. Her groups have traveled to Montreal and Quebec in Canada, Maine, Massachusetts, Branson, Mo., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the annual Festival of Lights in Wheeling, W.Va., she says. In addition to organizing between three and four big trips annually, Springer coordinates charter day trips to dinner theaters throughout the Tri-State area.

"My bus trips are for the good fellowship, for everybody to get together and have a good time," she says.

Senior citizens have traditionally comprised the bulk of Springer's travel groups, but an increasing number of younger people are hopping onto the charter bus bandwagon, she says. Charter bus services nationwide are targeting younger riders, says Smedley Lynn, owner of Atlantic Coast Charters. He says his company now plans less-structured tours for individuals and families who want to "do their own thing" when they reach their destination.

Competition borne of the motorcoach industry's economic deregulation about a decade ago has transformed the industry into one that focuses more on its customers than ever before, Parra says. The U.S. Department of Transportation still regulates safety in the industry.

Most newer buses have air conditioning, plush reclining seats and monitors for viewing movies.

"Motorcoaches aren't what they used to be. The amenities on board are quite extraordinary," Parra says. "And we are the safest way to travel, bar none - and that's according to the (U.S.) Department of Transportation."

The motorcoach industry boasts an annual average of less than 10 fatalities, he says.

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