Coach Tours of Brookfield, Connecticut, knows how to make a contingency plan. And for several operators headed for the Obama inauguration, that ended up being a good thing. With predictions of congestion and gridlock in mind, and 14 of his own charters headed for Washington, DC, Ira Steinberg, president of Coach Tours, decided to send an empty relief bus as well to ensure that his own groups wouldn't be left high and dry if something happened to one of the loaded coaches.
"We knew how important it was for groups to be there on time," says Steinberg, who runs an all-MCI fleet. "We thought a spare bus would be a good idea. Fortunately we didn't need it. So at a certain point we let it be known that it was available to others."
Steinberg put ads in several trade publications and put the word out more informally as well. And sure enough, early on Inauguration Day, the calls started coming in, mostly from companies experiencing air problems in the frigid cold. Steinberg's trusty 1992 MCI was ready.
"We picked up their passengers and brought them to RFK Stadium, where shuttles were available to take them the rest of the way," says Steinberg. "We must have picked up about 150 people. Each bus load took a couple of hours. Everyone was in good spirits because it was a happy occasion, and they were getting to their destination."
While most of the rescues were from companies that called, one was a stranded coach that Steinberg happened upon alongside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. "We saw the bus there, and I knew there wouldn't be anyone else coming to pick them up anytime soon, so we turned around at the next exit and came back for them."
Amazingly enough, Steinberg chose to charge his standard rate. "Some of our customers asked, 'Are you sure that's enough?' I told them they could double it if they wanted, but no one took me up on that," jokes Steinberg. "It still ended up being profitable, and maybe we generated some goodwill for the industry."
Steinberg believes his gesture was typical of the industry. "As much as we beat each other up when we're bidding on a trip, we try to help each other out. You've got to remember that it's ultimately the customers you're taking care of. You want to make it easier for them so it's a good experience."
And for hundreds of Obama supporters who, thanks to Coach Tours, managed to see the historical event they came so far to witness, it was.
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