U.S. Crew Change Succeeding In The Commercial/Industrial & Emergency Services Markets
By Harrell Kerkhoff, Busline Magazine Editor
One of the unique aspects to the bus/motorcoach transportation industry involves the diversity of trips that operators specialize in at the request of their customers. Case in point is U.S. Crew Change, headquartered in Dallas, TX, which offers commercial/industrial employee ground transportation as well as emergency services via motorcoaches, minibuses, vans and SUVs.
The company operates from five locations based in the southern, midwestern and western portions of the United States. One part of its business is to transport employees to and from their work sites. It also provides key transportation for areas of the country experiencing a natural or man-made emergency.
“We perform a variety of transportation services, mostly commercial and government oriented. For example, we transport oil field workers, such as those who work on offshore drilling rigs. We take them to where they need to go. In case of a hurricane, they need us to get them to safety after evacuating from the rigs. We transport a lot of workers involved in the industrial and construction industries,” U.S. Crew Change President & CEO John Montgomery said. “We will perform any type of transportation that is required by our customers. We view our business as a ‘service provider,’ rather than simply a ‘bus company.’ It’s important to understand that our customers have a business to run — which is not ground transportation. Therefore, we need to take the concerns they have about transporting employees ‘off their plate.’ It makes their lives easier, and they are very appreciative. It also helps us create better relationships with our customers.”
On the emergency services side of its business model, part of U.S. Crew Change’s focus is maintaining a contract with the state of Texas that involves emergency evacuations. With such work carries a lot of responsibility.
“We understand that being late during an emergency situation means you keep people in harm’s way. There could be lives lost. It’s important for us to be precise and execute well. The same thing is true for our commercial customers. If their employees don’t show up on time, they can’t run their business. It costs them a lot of money. It’s important that we are reliable,” Montgomery said. “We spend a lot of time thinking about process improvements and operational excellence. We also rely on our drivers to provide their ideas on how to improve the process — in fact everybody at our company works on process improvements because failure is not an option.
“Providing transportation during emergency situations can be intense. A lot is happing all at once, and a lot of things that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s important for us to have a high level of experience to react rapidly, quickly and make the right decisions. A lot of things depend on what we do as a transportation provider.”
During such emergencies, U.S. Crew Change officials often work with strategic partners in the form of other bus operators.
“We are always looking for quality bus companies to join our team as it pertains to emergency services,” Montgomery said. “Because we often work with other operators, it’s important there is a simple system in place that is easy for everybody to understand and follow during an emergency environment.
“It’s rewarding when we can make a difference to people who need our assistance during an emergency. It’s a unique part of our business and something we take great pride in delivering. Having an experienced leadership team is critical. Many of our senior and middle management leaders have 20 to 40 years of experience in the transportation industry. We believe we have one of the most experienced management teams in the industry, bar none. Many of our people have worked for a variety of large operators and have gained a great deal of experience.
“It’s not that we, at U.S. Crew Change, are any better or smarter than somebody else, it’s just that we have been around the block a few times and have seen a lot. We have also introduced a lot of new ideas. Some of them have worked, and some have not worked, but it’s a never-ending process. We talk about our industry at work all the time. That helps, because the more we talk, the more things we come up with for possible future use.”
With the commercial/industrial transportation side of U.S. Crew Change’s operation, Montgomery explained that the biggest risk to people working in such trades is their journeys to and from work sites. In response, U.S. Crew Change officials take great pride in the company’s commitment to safety. Meticulous planning and rigid procedures are in place and have been contributing factors to the company’s success.
“Our customers demand a safe and reliable form of transportation. That revolves around proper vehicle maintenance. We maintain our own vehicles, using our own maintenance facilities located in different parts of the country. Our network is supervised by a corporate director of maintenance. Each facility also has its own maintenance manager — all to make sure U.S. Crew Change incorporates a consistent approach to maintenance,” Montgomery said. “For example, if we work on a bus in Louisiana, that bus is going to be maintained in the exact same way as a bus we are working on in northern Nevada. The customer will not experience any difference. We often conduct projects for specific customers involving multiple locations, so it’s important to deliver a consistent service, which includes how we maintain each vehicle.”
He added the key to keeping a vehicle safe and reliable is preventative maintenance. It’s a part of business that representatives at U.S. Crew Change work on every day, with the help of a major bus vendor.
“We currently have approximately 200 employees and 175 vehicles. Most of our employees are drivers, and the vast majority of our vehicles are TEMSA TS45 motorcoaches,” Montgomery said. “We work closely with our TEMSA partner when it comes to the best way to maintain those vehicles, parts and logistics. Our objective is to always have a below average out-of-service rate. TEMSA representatives have done a tremendous job with us for the benefit of our customers.”
Multiple Locations — One Level Of Service
U.S. Crew Change is the parent company of four subdivisions: Coastal Crew Change, based in Lake Charles, LA; Southwest Crew Change, of Orange, TX; Mountain Crew Change, of Elko, NV; and Great Plains Crew Change, with dual locations in Dallas and Sioux Falls, SD. In total, 22 states are serviced by U.S. Crew Change, with plans in place for expansion.
Montgomery explained that U.S. Crew Change started with the purchase of two companies, one involving a mid-size charter bus operation and another involving a small commercial and industrial bus company known as Coastal Crew Change, which had 20-plus years of experience.
“We were impressed with the service level that was required for commercial and industrial transportation and decided to focus on that business segment,” Montgomery said. “Over time, we sold the charter bus company to focus more on further developing and expanding Costal Crew Change. We eventually developed the name U.S. Crew Change to signify our geographic expansion — from a local business based in Louisiana to one that is now national in scale. Over time, we developed our other subdivisions.”
Helping that development was finding the right vehicle and corresponding vendor. Filling such a role has been bus manufacturer TEMSA, with its different bus models — mainly the TEMSA TS45 motorcoach.
“We do operate other TEMSA vehicles for more niche applications, involving the TS30 and TS35, but the backbone of our fleet is the TS45. It seems to be the best solution for us,” Montgomery said. “It helps that our drivers and mechanics become used to working with one type of vehicle within the fleet. TEMSA has been great in providing valuable tech support at all our locations. That includes properly training our people on the best way to maintain the TEMSA product. We have been able to tweak some preventative maintenance measures based on feedback from TEMSA. That makes a big difference in terms of satisfying our customers. I feel we are getting the best training possible from TEMSA.
“It also helps that there are many interchangeable parts involved with the different TEMSA models. That keeps our parts inventory down. For the most part, U.S. Crew Change is operating with one vendor and basically one bus platform, leading to greater training, parts inventory, and service. TEMSA has been a great business partner from that standpoint.”
He added it’s important U.S. Crew Change representatives continue to take advantage of today’s technology whenever possible — whether it involves on-the-bus applications or in the office.
“There is a lot of technology available right now in the bus industry, and we look to take advantage of anything that can support what we are trying to accomplish as a transportation provider,” Montgomery said. “Many of our customers request safety-related amenities, such as an alarm system in case a driver starts to become drowsy. We work with a commercial/industrial customer base where safety is of the utmost importance. Most of the technology that is going to be helpful for such customers supports safety and reliability. They also want to be sure our vehicles are properly tracked while on the road. In response, that is the type of technology we work to provide.”
Other amenities important for U.S. Crew Change’s client base include on-board restrooms and plenty of storage space.
One challenge facing any type of business operating vehicles is finding enough drivers. It’s a shortage that officials at U.S. Crew Change continue to tackle head-on.
“We have a recruiting specialist who spearheads our driver hiring practices. The person is very experienced and works with a variety of contacts, helping us mitigate the driver shortage,” Montgomery said. “Success starts with the recruiting process. We tend to hire drivers with experience and then train them according to our company’s policies. Our main objective is to provide a safe, well-maintained vehicle that is properly operated by a well-trained driver. When necessary, we will add another level of training that deals with a specific operating environment, often based on geography and/or unique customer requirements.”
Due to the type of transportation that U.S. Crew Change provides, company officials look for driver candidates who are focused on providing a consistent trip experience. Being safe, detailed oriented and reliable are all critical aspects to the job.
“We look for drivers who seek routines, which can be different than tour and charter bus drivers who may want to travel to different destinations all the time. Our work is more line-run oriented,” Montgomery said. “It’s also important our drivers look for things that are ‘not quite right’ when inspecting their vehicles. The first line of defense involving a maintenance program is for drivers to pay close attention to their vehicles.”
Travel at all levels appears to be in vogue again in wake of the global COVID pandemic. That is certainly true at U.S. Crew Change.
“Operating a charter business was very difficult during the pandemic as nobody wanted to go anywhere. I would classify business as being ‘uneven’ within the commercial/industrial services side of transportation, but it had a lot more life than the charter side,” Montgomery said. “At U.S. Crew Change, we worked on social distancing practices and found other solutions to keep our business operational and necessary. That included the way we cleaned our buses, the configuration of our seating, and the use of more equipment, with the help of TEMSA.
“Looking ahead after COVID, we are very optimistic as it relates to our emergency services work as well as our commercial and industrial customer base. New manufacturing plants and office buildings are being built, which means future passengers for our company. We expect our growth to continue and have been working on plans for next year. I think our company’s story keeps getting stronger as we continue to develop our business concept. Our future is bright as long as we continue to take care of our customers.
“We picked a particular type of work within the industry that is different, focusing on emergency and contract services. Within those segments, it’s important to focus on what we can do better than most. I really like the team we have and our industry partners. I also like the type of customers we work with. They help provide a recipe for our success. It also helps to have centralized support services in place, as well as experienced people at the local level. We try to achieve the best of both worlds, and that seems to make a difference.”
The newest addition to U.S. Crew Change’s transportation portfolio is its Great Plains Crew Change operation. Montgomery said the company is also looking to expand in other geographic regions, such as the Mid-Atlantic states.
“That would give us good national coverage. As it stands, we can currently cover most of the United States and meet different customer needs due to our strategically-placed regional operations,” Montgomery said. “Local management at those locations is supported by our various services offered at the U.S. Crew Change headquarters in Dallas.”
Despite the ups and downs associated with running a transportation business, Montgomery said he would highly recommend the industry as a career choice. The main thing, he added, is to get experience and learn from peers within the industry, which there are many.
“I was quite fortunate in that I had a chance to learn from a lot of smart people in this industry, starting at Greyhound and moving on to other large bus companies. There is a lot of opportunity in this industry and younger people are needed. The more diversity we can bring into the industry, the better,” he said. “I would recommend for anyone interested in the transportation field to find an environment that best fits his/her personality, and then get started. A lot of things are changing, and it’s a fun time to be in this industry. Who knows what future technology will bring. The main thing is to always take care of your customers and look for new ways to grow your business.”