Busy buses mean extra cash
Offering transportation services to your resident population is a great amenity. However, vehicles are costly to purchase, maintain, and operate. Wouldn’t it be great if you could develop programming that would help vehicles pay for themselves? Halsey King, a Carlsbad, California-based transportation professional whose firm provides management advisory assistance, technical training, investigational assistance, and maintenance education for bus fleets, offers some suggestions on how to turn your transportation program into a revenue stream by expanding travel opportunities for your residents and others.
Today, more than half of the states restrict seniors’ driving privileges. And while some seniors may have had to surrender their licenses and automobiles, they haven’t given up on independence. “To meet your residents’ need for connectivity and social involvement, you can offer a solution that can eventually become a revenue source if approached logically,” advises King.
By making specialized, interest-oriented trips available, a long-term care organization can help to sustain quality of life for its residents. And a facility needs to keep the vehicles rolling; they’re expensive and don’t pay for themselves in a garage. King offers advice on how to get a fee-based program out on the road.
The typical van might take residents shopping once a day. “From that point on,” says King, “the vehicle just sits there.” To institute a revenue stream, King says that a visionary travel planner/qualified transportation director who understands the nature and goals of the particular long-term care setting is essential. “You need a person who can take the program from a thought process and develop it into a real-life transportation program,” he advises. This individual should be familiar with federal and state transit requirements, especially Parts 37 and 38 of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This knowledge is important to qualify the vehicle as meeting those requirements.
Of course, to host a good trip, you need a good driver. “There are many people, especially, retired military, who are eager to volunteer their services. Many have CDL licenses, and some paratransit vehicles do not require them,” states King. However, the vehicle must be equipped with a communications device and the driver and trip coordinator must have basic first aid training and know how to use the equipment, along with the locations of local emergency sites-police, fire, hospital-on the route.
The planner/director arranges various excursions that can appeal to the active resident community-trips to museums, concerts, bingo halls, sports events, etc. Even better, says King, he or she can survey residents’ preferences and find a way to accommodate them. If medically necessary, residents should present a doctor’s permission or family/resident consent for the service.
But how does this generate revenue? This is where planning is essential. For the organization’s residents, a reasonable fee (either monthly or on a per-trip basis) is charged for these “extracurricular” jaunts, suggests King. These excursions should be advertised (e.g., newsletter, poster) to residents on the organization’s campus and to other nearby facilities.
To illustrate: On Thursday, the planner has arranged for its 16-passenger bus to transport residents to the art museum to see a long-anticipated Egyptian exhibit. The trip, including lunch at the museum restaurant, will cost $35. A discount might be offered to the host facility’s residents and, if there are only three on-campus passengers going, the planner then notifies one or two nearby facilities this outing is available to their residents for a fee. If marketed correctly, there is now a full busload of paying passengers. Including neighboring facilities promotes goodwill and the facility becomes a recognized quality provider in the community. Later that evening, a casino trip might be scheduled. “One independent/assisted living venue I know of has even hosted an on-board mini-wine tasting,” King says with a smile. Consequently, your buses are moving and generating revenue to offset maintenance and fuel costs.
“Another potential revenue stream is for the planner to sell on-board advertising billboards to local merchants,” suggests King. He also remarks that some buses have drop-down TVs that might also carry video messages that make the trip more entertaining.
To institute a program as described, your vehicle(s) must be up to the task, including lifts and ramps in good repair. In 2006, King previewed his predictions for the innovations that are now available in today’s transit vehicles (
Nursing Homes/Long-Term Care Management, May 2006, p.33). “To offer a travel activity program to a diverse senior population, safety and comfort are primary goals,” King advises. He notes that today’s defibrillators are small enough to hang on a bus wall and have enough power for emergencies. “In addition, the driver and/or nursing staff must be trained in their operation in an emergency,” he says.
Buses now have LED lighting to make the cabins brighter and more visible to riders with impaired vision. Even the handrails are improved. “Chrome is out on seat backs and yellow is in. The color makes it easier for older people to see and grasp. New bus floors offer better slip-resistance for a surer step,” says King. All these improvements provide a safer, more comfortable journey. Some of these options are available to the aftermarket and should be considered if a facility’s budget allows for vehicle upgrades.
In the new bus category, vehicles are equipped with better securement devices to transport wheelchairs, scooters, and personal transports-a form of transportation becoming more popular with seniors with disabilities such as arthritis or back or hip pain because, according to federal ADA laws, a disability does not have to be apparent. “Once the group arrives at its destination, the residents who need these devices can continue to enjoy the day after disembarking,” comments King.
Many seniors have just aged; they haven’t slowed down and still need engagement and stimulation to preserve their quality of life. Others don’t want to burden their families or have to wait to leave the premises until it’s convenient for a family member. Using the right ingredients, patience, and imagination-whether you have a fleet or just one vehicle-a long-term care community can create a program that puts some additional “change in the farebox.”
Long-Term Living 2010 October;59(10):56-57
Sandra Hoban was on I Advance Senior Care / Long-Term Living’s editorial staff for 17 years. She is one of the country’s longest-serving senior care journalists. Before joining Long-Term Living, she was a member of the promotions department at Advanstar Communications. In addition to her editorial experience, Sandi has served past roles in print and broadcast advertising as a traffic and talent coordinator.
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