Parkway Southern Baptist in New Albany, Indiana, relies on church transportation to shuttle people to and from church, bring kids to Wednesday night programs, and travel for mission trips. When the church decided to replace its 15-passenger van, Pastor Henry Ford sought guidance from other churches. He learned about the construction of different buses, issues with specific parts, and other details that guided his church's search.
In a similar spirit to Ford's search, here are three tips to help your church before it buys a new bus:
1) Your transportation needs are unique
Many elderly people use ministry transportation at Parkway Southern Baptist, and getting in and out of the van was a struggle for them.
"You have to be a contortionist to get in and out of a 15-passenger van," Ford says. "We've actually had people fall getting out of the van. They've tripped on a seatbelt or something else and literally fallen to the ground."
Parkway chose a new 14-passenger bus (purchased from ChurchBus.com) with a high ceiling and center aisle that gets riders in and out with ease.
For other churches, a lift and wheelchair accessibility might be necessary. Others might not need the wheelchair lift, but they might choose to purchase a bus with a built-in ramp. Rear storage space might be a prerequisite for churches planning to use the bus for longer trips.
Jerry Remus, sales manager for Carpenter Bus Sales, says every church must consider its unique needs, but the unique nature of buses also may pose one significant challenge to churches: someone qualified to drive it.
"Any bus over 15 passengers requires a Class C with P endorsement driver's license," Remus says.
A church-owned bus—with its name on the side—also provides marketing. "It's a moving billboard," says Rob Zimmerman, president of BestChurchBus.com. "It's a great way to get people interested in the church."
Carpenter Bus Sales reports that 15- and 26-passenger buses account for 60 percent of sales in the ministry transportation market. Other common bus sizes are 26-passenger (with or without rear storage) and 33-, 40-, and 45-passenger.
If a church only needs a bus occasionally, or for special trips, it may make more sense to rent rather than purchase, Remus says. That eliminates the upfront expense, as well as ongoing maintenance and insurance costs.
2) Safety matters
Many churches still use 15-passenger vans, which can result in liability issues for church leaders, says Jacob McBurnie, national sales manager for ChurchBus.com.