Five Minutes With ... Clarence E. Cox, III
Owner, Georgia Coach Lines | President, Georgia Motorcoach Operators Association | Chairman, African American Motorcoach Council
Clarence E. Cox, III didn't always work in travel, though his family roots in the industry go back to 1985 when Georgia Coach Lines was officially established. While growing up, Cox dabbled as a driver and cleaner for the church buses Cox's father and uncle drove on the weekends. Cox, whose background is originally in law enforcement, officially took over the company full time after his uncle passed in 2017.
Cox's industry involvement is vast. This past fall, he was appointed Chairman of ABA's newly created African American Motorcoach Council, which focuses on helping ABA lobby for more federal funding for the motorcoach industry, especially on behalf of small, family-owned, minority businesses.
Always looking out for others, Cox is no stranger to lobbying Congress and Senate leaders to pay closer attention to the motorcoach industry. He ensures Georgia Coach Lines is always on standby for those in need, most recently helping with Hurricane Ida evacuation efforts along the Gulf Coast, sending a "Convoy of Care" to residents with supplies, and assisting in the transport of American soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
Something that has become the standard is COVID safety protocols. We cleaned coaches before, but now we're going through with a fogger after every trip to prevent the spread of COVID. It was strange at first to see airlines start doing it, but now here we are doing the same thing. We're also following all CDC protocols and implementing AssurClean standards from the United Motorcoach Association. I think that's very significant.
Drivers are few and far between right now. We're losing drivers to retirement, but also many are afraid of having close public contact. I've spent time driving myself recently—not something I was planning on doing—but we've got to do what we've got to do. It's going to be a challenge, because most insurance companies require a certain amount of experience before allowing someone to operate your coaches. I don't see a big problem with that, but it makes it difficult to have a full-fledged staff of seasoned drivers.
It's key to educate politicians. Most didn't realize how important we were in regards to funding until we started having good conversations about how most motorcoach companies are small, family-owned and operated companies, and how motorcoaches are more sustainable than traveling by individual cars.
I think about the folks we serve in a lot of the rural places and how motorcoaches remain an affordable option for them. My first vacation as a child was on a Trailways bus from Atlanta to Fernandina Beach. We stayed at Bethune–Cookman University, a historically Black college. We were actually supposed to go to Daytona Beach, but because it was segregated at the time, we couldn't. I will never forget that. And I will never forget how much fun the trip was. I enjoy the fact that we contribute to that for others.
ADVICE TO NEWCOMERS
You have to be dedicated and committed to the folks you're serving. It's about the people. We've got this saying: "We change dreams into realities and possibilities one seat at a time" and that's the way you've got to look at it as a new operator. If you're going to do it the right way and follow all the rules the way you should, it's going to cost you a lot of money—it's not a get rich overnight business. Patience and passion are key. Somebody could call you at 2 a.m. and say, "I've got a broken down bus." What are you going to do about it? You're responsible for a lot of people.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of Groups Today.