Don't Leave Buses Stranded
April 30, 2020
COVID-19 is destroying livelihoods, industries, and entire economies. This is why Congress is giving lifelines to the aviation, rail, and transit industries. But the motorcoach industry, meanwhile, is teetering.
This approach of choosing winners and losers won’t work. We need a holistic approach in distributing federal assistance to critical sectors of our economy in order to make our nation whole.
The motorcoach and group travel tour industry comprises nearly 3,000 operators across the United States, the majority being family-owned small businesses. We carry nearly 600 million passengers annually, which is roughly equivalent to the number of passengers carried by domestic airlines. We support the hotel industry, with nearly 80 million room nights booked, and we contribute $237 billion in transportation, travel, and tourism revenue in this country.
Those numbers only tell part of our story. We also link rural areas to urban centers. From distant mines and oilfields to business campuses and city office buildings, we bring workers to their jobs. East, west, north, south, and all points in between, we are the intercity connectors. From children on school trips to family tours of the national parks, we enable experiences to happen and memories to be formed. And we proudly assist our military servicemen and women when they need a lift.
Motorcoach companies are also on the front lines of security preparedness planning and emergency response. In other parts of the country, buses are vital to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state emergency response efforts. Motorcoach operators move people efficiently and effectively when natural disasters strike. As forecasters predict an “above average” active hurricane season in 2020, do we want buses sidelined when they should be evacuating hundreds of thousands of people from our coastal communities?
Like much of the U.S. transportation network, motorcoach companies have since stopped driving as part of the coronavirus response. As an industry, we support the public health restrictions put in place to help flatten the curve. We encourage everyone to listen to medical experts and, despite our love for the open road, took the advice ourselves to stay at home. And, as most people are, we feel anxious about what post-pandemic looks like for our families, our businesses, and our country.
Our anxiety of the future takes a backseat, however, to our fear for the survival of our industry today.
To date, Congress has approved more than $2 trillion in federal aid in three COVID-19 economic response packages. Within Phase Three, the motorcoach industry requested grant funding and loan guarantees to keep our members’ operations and their livelihoods afloat. While most transportation-related industries received direct federal assistance under the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act”, the motorcoach industry was inexplicably left by the roadside.
We appreciate the enormity of the responsibility placed upon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as they navigate this unprecedented challenge. While they rightly keep the vital importance of transportation industries at the forefront of their concern, motorcoach companies remain in their blind spot.
As president of the American Bus Association, I implore congressional leaders to keep our members in mind as they decide economic winners and losers in future COVID-19 response bills: To date, 91% of motorcoach employees have been furloughed or laid off. In the home states of our congressional leaders — California, Kentucky, and New York — the job losses equal 90.3%, 87.8%, and 90.2%, respectively. Nationally, the economic loss has reached $8 billion.
Our industry touches every town and city in America. Millions rely on us daily to commute to work, send their children to school, and connect them to communities near and far. Buses move America; don’t leave them stranded.
Peter J. Pantuso is president & CEO of the American Bus Association, North America's largest motorcoach, tour, and travel association.