Bus companies scramble to handle Ravens game, inauguration

By the time the phone calls started pouring in from Ravens fans seeking transportation to Sunday's conference championship game outside Boston, Superior Tours in Baltimore was already expecting a busy holiday weekend.

The company had charter buses booked for the presidential inauguration on Monday for more than a year. Managers tried this week to find another bus and put together a travel package for the Ravens game, but the effort fell apart because of the time crunch.

"It just all fell on a really busy weekend," said Jeff Komins, one of the company's managers. "Anybody's bus that's this close to Washington, D.C., has been spoken for this weekend."

All over the Baltimore area, charter bus operators have scrambled to cope with a double-whammy: the Ravens game against the New England Patriots and President Barack Obama's second-term inauguration. In addition to the shortage of buses, they have been limited by federal regulations that restrict the hours a driver can work.

Bill Rohrbaugh's Charter Service in Manchester can only offer one bus to the game in Foxborough, Mass., because just a week ago, the company booked 10 buses to the inauguration from another charter company that could not handle all of a 40-bus request. That's on top of three other buses the company had already lined up for inauguration attendees.

Within a day, that bus to the Ravens game — $90 per person — was nearly booked.

"Everybody is excited about the Ravens winning and making it so far," said Celeste Klinedinst, who works in charter sales for the company.

She noted that Sunday's game is the last one that can be reached via a charter bus; if the Ravens win, they will play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. "That makes everybody even more excited," Klinedinst said.

Having the Ravens in the playoffs has been a boon for business, said Cathy Shea of Golden Ring Travel in Baltimore. Her company is sending 21 charter buses to the inauguration and four to New England. There have been requests for more buses, but the company cannot keep up with the demand.

"Do you have any more buses?" Shea asked. "We need buses."

WNST, a sports talk radio station, also offered a travel package and will be sending five buses of Ravens fans, according to Nestor J. Aparicio. Advertised rates ranged from $275 to $625, depending on the type of accommodations and whether a ticket to the game is included.

"It's been one of the more astonishing things I've ever seen," said Aparicio. There was enough demand to add to the caravan, but securing buses was a problem, he said.

Charter bus companies also face a hurdle in federal regulations. The U.S. Department of Transportation generally requires drivers to have eight hours off before a trip and limits them to 10 hours of driving — a problem for back-to-back events.

With the Ravens game unlikely to end before 9:30 p.m. Sunday, buses wouldn't get back to Baltimore until early Monday morning. That doesn't leave enough turnaround time for a driver to handle a charter for the morning inauguration ceremony in Washington.

Marc Komins, the executive vice president of Superior Tours, said his group rushed to put together a fans' package Sunday night, as soon as the Patriots had defeated the Houston Texans. The deal included round-trip transportation, a hotel room and a game ticket for $840, and one bus was sold out by the end of the day Monday.

But then the company's plan fell apart because of the lack of a bus and other complications.

Marc Komins said the last time he could remember such a busy time was Cal Ripken's induction to the Hall of Fame in 2007, when an estimated crowd of 75,000 gathered to see the baseball legend. Superior Tours sent 11 buses holding a total of 550 people to the event, he said.

Superior Tours will make a good profit from the six buses it plans to send to the inauguration, but it will miss out on the extra business from the Ravens game.

Still, scrambling to fill the demand from fans is part of the fun for some charter bus companies.

"We were hoping [the Ravens] would win because we would get some more business," said Shea of Golden Ring Travel. "We want them to win because we love them and we support them, but they support us when they win."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michelle Deal-Zimmerman contributed to this article.



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