01 May For Churches 15 Passenger Vans are Out
When it comes to church transportation, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the 15-passenger van, long used to haul children to youth retreats and shuttle seniors to Sunday lunch, is about to head the way of the nun’s habit.
The good news is that there are plenty of solutions ready to take its place.
Since 1990, more than 420 people have been killed and thousands more seriously injured, in rollovers and collisions in the top-heavy, thin-sided vehicles. GuideOne Insurance, one of the nation’s largest insurers of churches, reviewed just five accidents between 1999 and 2001 involving 15-passenger vans belonging to policyholders. Those misfortunes claimed the lives of 11 people, seriously harmed more than 20 and resulted in $4.3 million in claims.
“These things were built as cargo vans,” said Tom Boldwin, sales manager at Kankakee, Illinois-based Midwest Transit Equipment. “Then, all of a sudden, somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s put some seats in them and haul around all kinds of people.’ I’m surprised it’s gone this long.”
Insurance companies are only a part of the challenge. Federal and state law also is turning up the heat.
“Several years ago, the federal law outlawed 15 passenger vans for use in transporting children to and from school activities or church activities,” said Jim Elliott, national sales manager for Collins Industries, a bus manufacturer in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Elliott was referring to the Motor Vehicle Safety Amendments Act of 1974, which prohibits dealers from selling new, 10 or more passenger vans to any public or private daycare or school unless the vehicle meets federal school bus safety standards.
The law, which carries a $1,000 fine for every barred sale, does not apply to use passenger vans, nor does it preclude schools from using them.
As stated by the Christian Law Association, many states have passed laws prohibiting or minimizing their use. Other states allow them to be used as a school bus under certain conditions. CLA recommends ministries research the law in their state.
As many as 600,000 15-passenger vans are in use, most industry experts anticipate the vans will be history within a few years.
“That’s pretty quick, when you’re checking out having to replace something they spent $20,000 to $30,000 for and have to replace it with something that’s going to cost about $40,000,” said John Adams, national sales manager for Carpenter Bus Sales Inc. in Franklin, Tenn. He said the time for churches to start replacing them, or at least begin planning to, is now.
Trading In, Trading Up
What’s leadership to do if the church van becomes too expensive to insure or is even prohibited from use? A Type A school bus seating 22 passengers ranges from about $32,000 to $50,000, according to Elliott.
Used prices range from about $12,000 to $30,000, with lower-mileage vehicles coming in at the top of the range. The majority of the used buses five years old or newer come from the transit market. Churches tend to keep their vehicles much longer.
Large buses (34 to 42 passengers) range from about $70,000 to more than $100,000, again depending upon the type of motor and options.
This nonetheless does not speak to the costs of staffing a driver who has a certified medical certificate and a current CDL. Recently the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has tightened the screws on regulations that have made it increasingly difficult for churches to own and operate their own coaches, buses, or mini-buses.
If a church does decide to buy, it is significant that they understand these regulations and that they have a plan in place to adhere to them.
How are churches spending their money for vehicles?
Many churches have chosen used mini-buses that they are putting in service to replace their fleet of vans. Many of these do not require a driver to have a CDL, but churches should check the regulations with their local authorities and with their insurance companies.
Many churches are also considering buying the Type A school bus because it offers safety and value. Used school buses offer good value and well-maintained buses can start in the low-to-mid $30,000.
Boldwin, the sales manager for Midwest Transit Equipment, said he is not convinced churches are going to automatically upgrade. Cost versus need is being more closely examined in light of the 15-passenger van experience.
“If they have vehicles in their fleet now, I think they really need to look at the use of those vehicles,” he said.
While the 15-passenger van situation has influenced bus sales, Boldwin said church customers have not exactly been breaking down the door to drop $40,000 or $50,000 for a replacement vehicle.
It hasn’t been like Cabbage Patch dolls showing up at Toys R Us one day and the people run through the door fighting over them,” he said. “We’re getting more inquiries now about other types of transportation for churches than we have in the past. What’s it going to charge us?'”
One more factor confronting churches is once leadership decides to invest in a bus, what is it going to do with the old van, which when new may have cost up to $25,000.
Many churches are also opting to abandon their transportation ownership all together in favor of outsourcing. Churches are turning to local charter companies to build relationships that provide the service they are wanting, without any of the hassle or liability of a self-managed fleet. When they look at the real rising costs of fuel, management and ownership required to maintain a fleet that chartering is a cost-savings option, many churches are finding that.
Bus dealers, who stand to gain from the changeover are encouraging churches to remove the seats from their existing vans and sell them as cargo vans. They propose posting notices at home improvement and contractor outlets, where they may find a reasonable buyer’s market. “Those types of people understand what is going on and they’re picking up some great deals,” Boldwin said. “They’re still paying a good price for a nice church van.”
“We tell them to get start at $15,000 or $16,000 and see where they can go from there,” he said. “They’re absolutely going to make more that way than they would to trade it to a bus dealer who can’t reuse the van. That used to be a good market for us – used vans being sold to small churches because that’s all they could afford. Now, that’s totally out.”