Friday, February 09, 2007

Ski Bus Service

Well, we are about halfway through the ski season and the ski buses are making their frequent trips up to the ski resorts. While the ski bus service does provide a great transportation resource, is the ski bus service doing more harm than good?

The Ski bus service runs approximately 4 months out of the year. The other 8 months the ski buses largely sit in the yard. That is $10 MILLION in precious capital resources that are not doing any good. In addition, it means your employee force is lopsided with a bunch of drivers needed for a short period of time that have to be absorbed into the regular system or laid off.

The worst problem is the capital resources that go to waste. Having $10 million dollars in equipment sitting a majority of the year when UTA has plenty of uses for that money. The biggest problem is the attitude. A typical transit planner (government worker) figures that if the bus isn't moving it is not loosing money. Contrast that with a business attitude that says if the bus is just sitting there it is loosing money because it is not out on the road earning revenue. Do you think Southwest Airlines would be profitable if it allowed its 737s to sit 16 hours a day? Of course not.

Then their is the human resource issue. Every year the UTA needs a big pool of drivers to run the ski service. However, when April comes along these drivers once again have to work their way into the regular route system. This is fine when you are loosing a lot of drivers, but generally the turnover is not that high. The alternative is that you have to pink slip the drivers that are not needed. The other way around this is to be short on drivers 4 months out of the year. The problem here is that your drivers get overworked, they get burned out, then they either leave or loose their customer service skills.

So what to do?

On the capital front UTA should look to partner with someone to use the buses in the off season since the off season for UTA is the peak season for many others. While it is too late now because the park already has its buses, UTA could have teamed up with Zion National Park. Since Zion only needs the buses from May 1 to September 30, UTA could have used the buses for the ski season, taken off the snow tires, and sent the buses to Zion to be used in the park during the summer. That way the buses just don't sit there loosing money. An example of this is a few years ago the Union Pacific and a Canadian railroad worked out an agreement where UP would use a group of locomotives one part of the year and the Canadian railroad another part of the year. That way the railroads where able to split the cost of the capital purchase but have the locomotives when they needed them.

However that would not take care of the human resource issue.

The other alternative would not be popular with the union and that would be to contract out the service. That way a private operator would operate the service plus provide the drivers and the equipment. That way the UTA does not shoulder the problem of having equipment sit for 8 months a year plus the human resource issue. Since many private operators need more buses during the summer than winter, this could work out perfect for the right operator.

Its time for UTA to think "out of the box".

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