Private bus companies close doors as calls for help go unanswered

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Bus companies, which transport hundreds of millions of Americans each year, mostly working class, are forced by the pandemic to suspend service and close shops while trains and airlines stay afloat thanks to federal assistance.

In the latest round of stimulus grants and loans, airlines got $ 50 billion, Amtrak $ 1 billion, transit companies $ 25 billion, and private bus companies got no direct aid, said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association. “I don’t know how Congress can justify leaving us behind again,” he said.

Bus companies carry 600 million passengers per year, not far from the 700 million passengers of national airlines. They are asking for $ 10 billion under the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Act, introduced by Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, in July, but stuck in negotiations.

“Congress is feeling the heat to prevent the collapse of the entire sector,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University specializing in transportation and town planning. “There was such a mad rush with the first stimulus bill to save big business that the bus companies were grouped together with other small businesses.”

Part of the problem is the fractured nature of the industry. There are 3,000 coach companies, which support 100,000 jobs. They have laid off or laid off 90% of their workers, Pantuso said. The industry, which typically brings in $ 15 billion a year, estimates $ 4 billion this year.

He also suffers from a dispersed and poorly vocal clientele. Bus companies serve commuters but also military troops, school children, amateur athletes and survivors of natural disasters. Closures and suspensions will make it harder for low-income people, including health care workers and municipal workers, to access jobs, groceries and school.

Across the country, rides have all but come to a standstill as schools have turned to distance learning, sporting events have been canceled and commuters have stayed at home amid the pandemic.

“The local bus service in particular is a service that a lot of people rely on: front-line workers, low-income workers and just ordinary people, many of whom just need to get to shopping or appointments. to the doctor, ”said Christopher Jones, a senior vice president and chief planner for the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit research group.

In New Jersey, DeCamp Bus Lines, which serves the suburbs upstate, suspended operations on August 7, forcing its passengers heading to New York to find alternatives. Its ridership dropped 90% to 300 per day.

“I cannot justify continuing operations,” said Jonathan DeCamp, vice president and chief operating officer. “What we’re looking to do is wait a little longer and restart when the workers come back to town.”

The family business, which now has only two employees, has put 160 on leave, including around 110 operators. Its longest-serving employee has been with the company since 1984.

Coach USA, one of the nation’s largest bus companies, has laid off nearly 3,000 of its 5,000 employees in 35 states and the rest have suffered a 40% pay cut. It permanently shut down Lakefront Lines, Ohio’s largest bus company, cutting 339 jobs. Sean Hughes, director of corporate affairs at Coach USA, said his DC-New York line operates three round trips a day, down from his 25 before the pandemic.

Other businesses are even more in difficulty. “I think it’s 60 days before a majority of these little bus companies get on their buses to the banks and let the whole system fall apart,” said Mike Canine, vice president of Lorenz Bus Service. in Minneapolis.

The Federal Transit Administration plans to provide $ 464 million in subsidies for bus infrastructure, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said last week. But state subsidies for transit-related projects are once again leaving out private bus companies. If they disappear, transportation options will decrease.

Private bus service also serves as a supplement to transit agencies who can use their ridership and mileage to apply for federal transportation subsidies. If private operators go bankrupt, it could mean a loss of federal aid for public agencies.

“It was a disaster,” Pantuso said. “Much of the industry has been decimated and much of it is on the verge of going out of business for good.”

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