SMALL BUSINESS – Your coach awaits

Posted on May 1, 2012 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Before sending their kids off to college, parents often wonder, “How will my son/daughter get home?”

That answer just got a little easier at several university of Wisconsin schools, thanks to Kobussen Home Run, a cooperative ride program provided by Kobussen Trailways in Kaukauna.

The bus service runs Thursday, Friday and Sunday between Madison and Green Bay with stops at UW-Madison, UW-Oshkosh, an Appleton service station and UW-Green Bay.

“I talked to parents during orientation, and (rides home were) one of their biggest concerns,” says Jean Kwaterski, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UW-Oshkosh.

When Kobussen first contacted UW-Oshkosh to establish the program (which launched last fall), Kwaterski says it seemed like an ideal prospect. The pricing is reasonable for students ($18 to $60 for round trips, depending on distance), and the school doesn’t incur any costs.

While the college had arrangements with city transportation to provide local rides to students, this city-to-city service is new for them. “It’s been a win-win really,” Kwaterski admits. Students can ride home for the weekend or travel to other campuses to visit friends.

Ready to ride

“We had the idea for awhile,” says Megan Rollo, Kobussen’s general manager of motorcoach.

Company president Joe Kobussen had seen a prototype of this service on the East Coast, says Cynthia Whiteaker, Kobussen’s sales manager. “That’s really how the concept started,” she says. “We wanted to look at one run and do it well.”

They looked at colleges in the region that might have the biggest needs, and they first approached UW-Oshkosh, which was very receptive to the idea.

With 700 employees and a fleet of 30 to 40 motorcoaches, Kobussen – which has three locations in Wisconsin – was well positioned to launch the service with “not a lot of start-up costs,” says Whiteaker. “With the economy, people are trying to use what they have.”

Since Kobussen is primarily a charter and school bus company, however, they didn’t have a ticketing system, which Whiteaker noted was one of the program’s up-front investments.

While Whiteaker says initial ridership estimates are premature since the program is so new, she says, “Ridership has steadily grown.”

Increasing awareness of the fledgling program has been one of Kobussen’s key initiatives – and the colleges involved have helped in promoting the program through fliers in parents’ packets.

And while Whiteaker admits it can be hard to reach college students, social media – through texting and Facebook and Zimride campaigns – has also proven effective in reaching today’s tech-savvy kids.

The green aspect of ride-sharing doesn’t hurt either. “We’re big promoters of green travel,” Whiteaker says. “And that whole ‘green’ initiative has been in the works for awhile.” To increase usage and promote green travel, Kobussen has opened the Home Run route to the general public as well.

Three Kobussen coaches – which seat 56 each – are earmarked for the program. And they definitely provide more comforts than a dorm roommate’s 15-year-old Pontiac with the loud muffler. The coaches feature overhead storage, luggage bays, a restroom, reclining seats, TV monitors with DVD player and Wi-Fi.

“The students appreciate it,” says Rollo, adding that discipline issues have been non-existent on the route.

The Home Run route will only run during spring and fall semesters when the UW System is in session. So its first season is nearing an end, but Kobussen plans on using the time to continue to promote and, possibly, expand the service.

“We’re dedicated to getting this program running solid,” says Whiteaker, adding that they have visited other campuses in the service area – including private schools – to possibly expand down the road.

On the Web: www.kobussen.com, www.facebook.com/kobussenbus