The Best of Bus
by CHARLES SEATON
When Wiley Pearson and a group of friends decided to follow in the footsteps of Elvis Presley's Blue Suede Shoes, they chose to make the excursion via a privately-escorted motorcoach tour.
The trip, which they named the Elvis Presley Heritage Tour, took them through-out the South where they visited Civil War battlefields, took in minor-league baseball games, ate southern BBQ, enjoyed the hospitality of Memphis, Tennessee and, of course, Elvis' home, Graceland. "Traveling like this enabled us to visit with each other, make plans, sightsee and just enjoy the company of old friends," Pearson explained.
For most of us it's a chore to ride across town by bus - much less cross-country - but Ed Lonsbary's Private Motor Coach tours has boosted bus travel to another level. Rather than sharing a vehicle with 50 other tourists, PMC customers get an entire 40-foot coach to themselves and benefit from the attentions of owner/operator Lonsbary. Think high-end motorhome with your own guide, chauffeur and, when the need arises, facilitator.
"Personal escorted travel is a trend that's growing, especially among baby boomers," observed Lonsbary, who acknowledged that the downturn in the economy had slowed some segments of the travel market. "People are still investing in high-end travel, though - the type of travel where someone else does the driving and worries about the vehicle," he noted. "I'm finding that the people who are attracted to what we offer want to be separated from the masses and in charge of their own itinerary."
From the outside, Lonsbary's luxury highway coach looks like any other long-distance bus you'll see running the interstate, but the inside is something else again. Named "Patty's Charm" after Lonsbary's wife, it's a fully-outfitted converted coach boasting style, warmth and all the comforts of home.
Patty's Charm features a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a queen-sized bedroom. Also, it has one more amenity: Lonsbary himself, a gregarious and knowledgeable 56-year-old retired marketing executive who has created a thriving business out of making people's travel dreams come true. He founded the company in 1999.
Changes and Choices
Lonsbary aims to serve a market of families and small groups whose members want the convenience of ground transportation without facing the inconvenience of driving themselves in a cramped auto or a rented van.
For seven weeks last summer, Mimi Cocks enjoyed Alaska's pristine beauty and sparkling waters from Juneau to Skagway. A return customer, Mimi traveled nearly 10,000 miles throughout Alaska and western Canada.
Aside from pleasure trips, Private Motor Coach also caters to business groups headed for conferences, meetings or trade shows. Private Motor Coach has also provided transportation for music groups, including the Preservation Jazz Band, and Fabulous Gunslingers, a country/rock band. In fact several local businesses around Private Motor Coach's original home base of Pittsburgh, PA, have taken advantage of this unique transportation alternative.
In addition to working with his clients, Lonsbary is considering taking his business to the next step by becoming the mobile home base of a television travelogue program. "We'd like to do something that would really make people excited about leisure travel - all the things there are to do and see during a road trip," Lonsbary said.
Before he kicked his first bus tire, Lonsbary invested six months researching the viability of a personal tour business. "I dug out everything I could, studying the market and examining the feasibility of what I wanted to do," Lonsbary commented. "I was able to determine that the market for personal escorted motorcoach tours is out there. Now, I'm working to make certain that the market is aware of me and what I have to offer, too."
Pearson said they discovered Private Motor Coach through the firm's website, which overflows with photographs and testimonials from customers. "Ed's website was absolutely great," he said. "It was discovered by one of our group and we all looked at it and decided that that was the way we wanted to go."
Now, for most of us, driving any vehicle larger than a rented panel truck can be intimidating. So instead of just jumping behind the wheel, Lonsbary prepared for his CDL driving test by taking a full course at a truck driving school. In order to further sharpen his skills and become familiar with the handling idiosyncrasies of a 40-foot bus, he hired a retired Greyhound driver. "I wanted to start off with a foundation of professionalism and build on that," Lonsbary added.
That pursuit of professionalism was rewarded in 2001 when Lonsbary and wife Patty accepted the Motor Coach Industry Vision award from the United Motorcoach Association. The prestigious award acknowledges a strong commitment to safety, excellence in operation and service, marketing innovation, product development and social responsibility.
The slogan of Private Motor Coach is "Anytime, Anywhere," and Lonsbary has lived up to it transporting a wide spectrum of leisure and business travelers any place they want to go from Alaska to Central America.
Private Motor Coach can count among its customers several passengers, either elderly or infirm, for whom it would have been difficult if not impossible to travel by automobile or commercial carrier.
"Adult children tied to careers and the demands of their own youngsters can't simply pick up and go get Mom or Dad in some far-off city," Lonsbary pointed out. "We frequently respond to the growing need of families looking for safe, accompanied travel for aging and ailing parents."
At the Hub for Adventures
In 2001, Lonsbary moved his firm's base of operation west to Whitehouse, TX. He selected the town, which is about 95 miles east of Dallas, because of its "strategic geographic location, to better serve travelers seeking to explore the United States, Mexico and Central America," Lonsbary added. The Texas location puts him no more than two "deadhead" days away from any point in the country.
Ron Arslanian, one of the members of Pearson's group, said they had considered renting an RV and dividing the driving chores, but balked when they considered the high rental fee of a motorhome and the added stress of driving it themselves.
"The cost of renting an RV and then having to drive it kind of defeated the idea of being on vacation," said Arslanian, who added that the trip was so pleasant the group was considering another vacation with Private Motor Coach. "We traveled more than 2,200 miles and the time went by quickly. We purposely chose not to sleep on the bus, just use it for travel. But we had every amenity we could possibly want."
Private Motor Coach, Inc. offers fully escorted personal excursions throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central and South America.
Daily rates for renting the private coach run from $500 to $700 plus fuel and mileage, and do not include miscellaneous charges (parking, tolls, etc.). For further information: Tel: 800-936-5265 or 903-839-6262; Website:www.privatemotorcoach.com.
• The Patty's Charm motor coach can accommodate six to eight travelers during the day and two to four overnight.
• Food is not included in the daily travel rate, and Lonsbary does not cook (or make beds).
• Rates for "deadhead" days (when the bus travels empty to or from pick-up/drop off points) run about $200 per day plus fuel and mileage.
• Because of scheduling, it is advisable to make reservations six months to a year in advance.