Residents Left Behind as Pandemic Hurts Bus Companies
April 15, 2022
Throughout the country, many people who don’t have cars or don’t drive, especially students or people with limited means, rely on intercity buses. If those routes are cut or eliminated, they may be left in the lurch.
Transportation experts consider intercity services essential infrastructure. Often, they operate in areas where there may be no alternative transportation.
And in many small towns, local charter bus operators serve school groups, clubs for older adults and other community organizations. Without them, residents may have few options if they want to plan for sporting events, church retreats or sightseeing trips.
The pandemic took a heavy toll on the bus industry.
Riders disappeared. White-collar employees worked from home. Schools taught students remotely, so there were no field trips or sports events.
“It’s been devastating. Restaurants and hotels seem to be back. Airlines are all busy. Compared to other transportation modes and the travel industry, we are still way, way behind,” said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, an industry trade group.
It's particularly problematic for commuter bus lines, which relied on riders who lived in suburbs or small towns and rode the bus to work at bigger cities, Pantuso said.
Commuter bus ridership is only 20% to 25% of what it was before the pandemic, according to Pantuso’s group.
“In a lot of major urban areas, commuters aren’t coming back,” he said. “They’re teleworking or they’re driving because they don’t feel comfortable on a bus or metro.”
Charter bus companies are faring better, but still are operating at about 60% of capacity, Pantuso said.