From the day the first motorbus rolled into
service, coach operators have had one overriding
goal in mind- maximize profitability by putting as
many people on board the vehicles as possible. Ed
Lonsbary, president of Texas-based Private Motor
Coach, Inc. has turned that idea on its head. He
is offering full-service, cross-country, luxury
charters for individuals and groups up to ten.
From the outside, Lonsbary's MC-9 looks
like any other bus running the interstate, but the
inside is something entirely different. Named
"Patty's Charm," it's a fully-outfitted converted
coach with warmth, style and all the comforts of
home. The coach features a living room, kitchen,
bathroom and a queen-sized bedroom. Also, it has
one more very important amenity: Lonsbary himself.
A friendly, 54 year-old retired marketing
executive, he believes he can create a thriving
business out of making people's travel dreams come
"Personal escorted travel is a trend
that's growing, especially among baby boomers,"
says Lonsbary, who acknowledges that the recent
downturn in the economy had slowed some segments
of the travel market. "People are still investing
in high-end travel, though. The type of travel
where someone else does the driving and worries
about the vehicle."
While it may be too early
to tell whether Lonsbary really has tapped a major
vein in the potential gold mine of personal
leisure travel, people's choices have indeed
changed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001.
Over the past year and a
half, a large percentage of travelers have shown a
marked inclination to choose the highway over the
runway. A lingering fear of more terrorist attacks
mixed with the inconvenience of airport lines,
security checks, random searches and other hassles
have made road travel a lot more attractive than
The market that Lonsbary is working
to serve consists of families and small groups
whose members want the convenience of ground
transportation without facing the inconvenience of
driving themselves in a cramped auto or a rented
van with none of the comforts of home.
Aside from pleasure trips, Private Motor
Coach also caters to business groups headed for
conferences, meetings or trade shows. Private
Motor Coach, in business since 1999, has also
provided transportation for music groups,
including the Fabulous Gunslingers, a country/rock
band, and the Preservation Jazz Band. In fact,
several local businesses around Private Motor
Coach's original home base of Pittsburgh, PA, have
already taken advantage of this unique
Lonsbary started out with a pretty thin business
plan, but he did invest six months researching the
viability of the business. His research began to
focus on the baby boomers, who now comprise fully
two-thirds of the travel market.
out everything I could, studying the market and
examining the feasibility of what I wanted to do,"
Lonsbary explains. "I was able to determine that
there is a niche market for personal escorted
motorcoach tours out there. Now, I'm working to
make certain that the market is aware of me and
what I have to offer, too."
customers in the Web
Lonsbary has used the
Internet to reach out to prospective customers,
employing the promotional talents of his wife
Patty, to develop an interesting, informative and
entertaining Web site (www.privatemotorcoach.com).
"We work very hard on our Web site and a full 80
percent of Private Motor Coach's customers have
reached us through the Internet. It is a
phenomenal tool," Lonsbary says.
Pearson, one of a group of four friends who
decided to take a road trip vacation recently,
says they discovered Private Motor Coach through
the Web site and ended up taking the vacation of a
lifetime. "Ed's Web site was absolutely great," he
says. "It was discovered by one of our group and
we all looked at it and decided that that was the
way we wanted to go."
The trip, which they
named the Elvis Presley Heritage Tour, took them
throughout the south where they visited Civil War
battlefields, took in minor league baseball games
ate BBQ and, of course, visited Memphis and
Graceland. "Traveling like this enabled us to
visit with each other, make plans, sightsee and
just enjoy the company of old friends," Pearson
Another customer, Mimi Cocks, of
Nassau County, NY, took a trip out west last year
and has already booked a second trip to Alaska.
While she found Private Motor Coach the old
fashioned way - through a print ad - her
enthusiasm for the concept is as strong as
Pearson's. "This is a great way to travel. I had
looked at RVs, but decided that I couldn't do that
myself. A friend showed me an ad for Private Motor
Coach and after meeting with Ed, I decided that
this was the way I wanted to travel," says Cocks.
With returning customers now making up a
segment of his business, Lonsbary is starting to
feel that his hard work is beginning to pay off.
Lonsbary says a lot of work went into the creation
of Private Motor Coach. After all, it takes more
than desire to turn a good idea into a growing
business. According to Lonsbary, it takes a
reputation for safety, blended with
professionalism and smart marketing.
Lonsbary had sold himself on the idea that Private
Motor Coach would indeed work, he set out to find
the perfect unit. While he could have chosen a
high-end motorhome, his professionalism and belief
in his project dictated that he choose a bus-based
vehicle. He ended up buying a 1982 MC-9 with a
converted luxury interior, created from a new
shell by Angola Coach.
The coach had
traveled only a little more than 100,000 miles
since new. The powertrain was standard MC-9 fare
-a Detroit Diesel 6V92 mated to an Allison 754
Instead of just
jumping behind the wheel, he prepared for his CDL
by taking a full course at a truck driving school.
In order to further sharpen his driving skills and
become familiar with the handling idiosyncrasies
of a 40-foot bus, he hired a retired Greyhound
driver. "I wanted to start off with a foundation
of professionalism and build on that," says
Lonsbary, who added that Patty's Charm is
maintained professionally with no expense spared.
Hard work wins honors
Lonsbary's uncompromising pursuit of
professionalism was rewarded in 2001 when he and
Patty accepted the Motor Coach Industry Vision
award from the United Motorcoach Association. The
prestigious award acknowledges a strong commitment
to safety, excellence in operation and service,
marketing innovation, product development and
The slogan of
Private Motor Coach is "Anytime, Anywhere," and
Lonsbary has lived up to it transporting a wide
spectrum of leisure and business travelers
anywhere they want to go from Alaska to Florida,
and even on into Central and South America.
Private Motor Coach can count among its
customers several passengers, either elderly or
infirm, for whom it would have been difficult if
not impossible to travel by automobile or
"Adult children tied
to careers and the demands of their own youngsters
can't simply pick up and go get Mom or Dad in some
far off city," Lonsbary points out. "We frequently
respond to the growing need of families looking
for safe, accompanied travel for aging and ailing
Another customer, Dr. Cedric
King, a retired country doctor who now writes
Westerns, noted that Patty's Charm was a big house
on wheels that was both comfortable and private.
He used Private Motor Coach for a trip from
Philadelphia to Wisconsin with his son, who had to
travel in the company of a nurse.
Lonsbary took very good care of us. He was like a
member of the family. We had everything we needed
right on board the bus, which was a home away from
home for us. This is the only way to travel," says
In 2001, Lonsbary moved his
firm's base of operation west to Whitehouse, TX.
He says he selected the town, which is about 95
miles east of Dallas, because of its, "strategic
geographic location, to better serve travelers
seeking to explore the United States, Mexico and
Central America." He predicts Private Motor Coach
will soon branch out into South America.
The Texas location puts him no more than
two deadhead days away from any point in the
country. While he charges from $600 to $800 a day
for trips, he charges a fraction of that rate for
Trip of a lifetime
Ron Arslanian, one of the members of
Pearson's group, says they had considered renting
a motorhome and dividing the driving chores, but
balked when they considered the high rental fee
for a vehicle and the added stress of driving it
"The cost of renting an RV and
then having to drive it kind of defeated the idea
of being on vacation," says Arslanian, who adds
that the trip with Lonsbary was so pleasant the
group was considering another vacation with
Private Motor Coach. "We traveled more than 2,200
miles and the time went by quickly. We purposely
chose not to sleep on the bus, just use it for
travel. But we had every amenity we could possibly
Arslanian, who admittedly is not
crazy about flying, believes that Lonsbary may
have hit upon the right idea at the right time.
"Traveling this way is much nicer than flying and
let's face it, after 9/11 a lot of people have
concerns about mass transportation," says
Arslanian. "I believe that the time might be right
for a business like Private Motor Coach. It's a
great way for a small group to travel."
the future, Lonsbary would like to add another
coach and bring on another driver/escort. Having
given his customers such personal attention, one
might think that while finding good buses is
relatively easy, cloning Lonsbary might not be.
Charles Seaton is a free-lance writer who
splits his time between New Rochelle, NY, and
Pikeville, NC. Private Motor Coach can be reached
at (800) 936-5265.