1117 GMT September 20, 2020
Last year his buses carried 1.4 million people in the region and traveled 4.2 million miles, washingtonpost.com reported.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. The cancellations began to pour in. All the trips lined up for spring and summer — $5.4 million in business — were canceled within days in March. No new trips have been booked for the fall. Most of the company’s nearly 200 employees have been laid off, and many of its 70 motor coaches sit parked in a Lorton, Va., lot.
“This knocked us back 10 years,” said Torres, a retired D.C. police officer who lives in Prince William County and runs DC Trails with his wife and two sons. “We are definitely, definitely in trouble.”
The pandemic has been a blow to the entire transportation industry, but the motor coach sector has been hit especially hard.
Private bus trips came to a near-standstill as the pandemic forced schools to close, sporting events to cancel and people to stop traveling altogether amid the country's shutdown. Four months into the crisis, nearly 90 percent of the nation’s private bus companies are still shut down, according to the American Bus Association, and there is little to no sign of recovery for the sector, which supports nearly 100,000 jobs.
Unlike the airlines and public transit, the private bus industry, also known for transporting commuters in major metropolitan areas such as Washington and New York, has received no economic relief from the government. Now some trade leaders and lawmakers say they hope that will soon change.
Congress is considering a bailout for them. The Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act, introduced by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) on July 2, would provide $10 billion in emergency relief funding in the form of grants to the industry.
“The road to economic recovery for these businesses is already long and steep, and in order to get our economy working again, the federal government needs to extend assistance to this critical link in our transportation network,” said Reed, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
Bus operators provide essential transportation for millions of Americans, Reed said in a statement, noting that even during the crisis, motor coaches continued to serve communities, helping evacuate passengers stuck on cruise ships affected by the novel coronavirus, and to ferry troops.
Bus operators and trade groups have been knocking on doors of members of Congress for months. In May, a caravan of motor coaches from across the country drove to the Capitol in a collective plea for federal aid.
“You missed us. You missed the bus. You know, you’ve missed us,” Torres, of DC Trails, said he tells his congressional representatives. “Our industry transports almost as many people as the airlines; however, we didn’t receive any stimulus help from our government.”
The roughly 3,000 bus companies across the nation — many of them small, family-owned businesses — carry 600 million passengers each year, compared with the airlines’ 700 million domestic passengers.
Although the industry is known mostly as the carrier for intercity travel and sightseeing group tours, it also provides critical transportation in local communities, from bringing air and cruise travelers to and from ports to taking grade school kids on field trips, college athletes to sporting events and commuters to jobs. The military contracts them to move troops between bases, to training and to and from deployments. When natural disaster hits, they are called in to evacuate people.