How to do it... Transportation

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1  Many facilities fail to recognize shifts in their resident demographics, and whether their existing fleets are up to task of serving the current population. 

“If your occupancy has increased, it's time to change,” says Lavell Hampton, transportation lead at Friendship Village of Schaumburg, a continuing care retirement community in Schaumburg, IL. 

“When the resident level of care doesn't fit the vehicle you own, it's time to upgrade,” adds Lori Southern, executive vice president, sales, at CommTrans. 

Moreover, consider how often the vehicle is being used. Daily wear and tear, not necessarily mileage, will signal the need to upgrade. 

“We lease our vehicles for three years and run them every day,” Hampton explains. “After the third year, the wear and tear is far greater than on a bus that is only doing a couple of hours a day.”

2  Consider the following options for safety, comfort and aesthetics: higher capacity wheelchair lifts (1,000 pounds or more); remote/keyless entry, backup cameras, GPS navigation and real-time vehicle locators; antimicrobial seating and handrails; and fiberglass stepwells. 

Retractable seatbelts “rather than lap belts that flop all over the place” are popular, Southern says. The best place to spend money on upgrades is in the vehicle shell, she adds. 

“Sometimes the simple things you add to your bus can make a world of difference and aren't necessarily the costliest,” Southern says. “In a bad economy, a good [transportation] company will spend time telling you where you should spend your money on upgrades.”

3  Your fleet is your face to the community, and an aging rustbucket could hurt your image more than you know. More facilities today are adding shell wraps to vans and buses to maintain a good look and increase brand awareness, among other benefits. 

“We do half of our vehicles in wraps for the retirement sector,” adds Southern. “But remember – the wraps are only as good as the money you spend on them on the front end. Don't buy a cheap wrap, because it will look like a cheap suit.”

Vehicle wraps act as rolling billboards and should be a key part of your facility's marketing budget, agrees Bill Flynn, vice president, Atlantic Turtle Top.

Pay close attention to warranties and consider buying an extended one if you plan to have the vehicle in service beyond five years, experts advise. 

Buyers must think ahead: Flynn recommends looking for stronger standard overall warranties of a minimum five years or 100,000 miles. 

“Remember that most body warranties are only one-year/12,000 miles, so the best thing to do is keep your vehicle clean,” he says.

5  Don't allow your fleet upgrade decision to be driven solely by price. Experts profess faith in the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”

“When you focus on the price tag, you're not giving appropriate attention to the details of the bus,” says Todd Watson, senior living specialist, Nationwide Bus Sales. 

“While they may look very similar from the outside, there are dozens of passenger safety/comfort options that can conveniently be left out by a distributor to save money and cut corners. Price may be one determining factor, but it is extremely important to review these items prior to making a decision,” Watson points out.

6  An outright purchase could prevent you from taking advantage of short-term upgrade opportunities. This is why many operators choose a lease option. 

“Over the past few years, we've seen more customers take a proactive stance,” says Watson.This allows a number of benefits, including avoiding ongoing maintenance concerns and ensuring a facility will always have the latest cutting-edge equipment. 

Mistakes to avoid

-- Focusing solely on price, without considering the long-term value of add-on features that will provide comfort, flexibility and better performance

-- Forgetting to ensure replacement fleet vehicles are ADA-compliant

-- Failing to keep your changing demographics in mind

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