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Private bus industry slams Congress over coronavirus relief bill

Audrey Conklin
·3 min read

Private bus companies are not happy with the new COVID-19 relief package Congress approved late Monday, which allocates $2 billion to the motorcoach industry.

Motorcoach companies rallied in Washington in May to demand more support for the industry, but those calls were largely unheard, industry experts said.

"It's the uncertainty that's really weighing on us," Grand Classroom tour guide and motorcoach manager Tim Krepp told FOX Business. "I think what's particularly troubling is that it doesn't have to be this way."

Krepp said that when he served in the Navy during the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he saw "the speed and decisiveness of the government's response" to the tragedy, which "restored confidence" among Americans.

"Now I'm seeing a tragedy that's...greater in scale, in terms of the human cost, and I'm not seeing that," he said.

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More than 80,000 of 100,000 jobs in the industry lost due to the pandemic, and the industry is operating at about 10% of 2019 levels, according to the American Bus Association.

"We're facing this shrinkage in the industry here," Krepp said. "Our big concern, among other concerns, is that we're seeing all these coach companies go out of business."

The problem is so bad that company owners and managers are answering phones because they've laid off all their staff down to "bare skeletons," he said. Qualified drivers and tour guides who were considered rare finds at some companies have found new jobs and will be hard to replace.

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Krepp added that the biggest concern right now is whether companies recover, and if and when they do, they can handle an influx of demand after being starved of any business for about a year.

"We get dwarfed by everything else," he said of the industry, which has received little media attention compared to other struggling small businesses. "It's particularly concerning to me because it's not an industry dominated by four big companies. It's not like the airlines. ... It's kind of more pure capitalism."

A number of U.S. bus companies are startups and family-run businesses, whereas areas of the transportation industry are dominated by huge, billion-dollar companies.

"The owners are well off, but they're not billionaires. They provide a comfortable family income for them, and they employ a lot of people," Kepp said. "...Politicians are tripping over themselves talking about small businesses and that type of stuff. Well, here are small businesses...that are hurting."

Krepp admitted that $2 billion is "a lot of money" coming from taxpayers, but it's "not even close" to what the industry needs.

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Peter Pantuso, ABA president and CEO, said in a Monday statement that Congress needs to pass a relief bill closer to $4 trillion "to save the economy." President Trump on Tuesday threatened to block the relief bill because he wanted to send bigger stimulus checks to Americans.

"It is truly disappointing and shocking that once again Congressional leaders have failed to provide adequate funding for the motorcoach industry," Pantuso said. "The private motorcoach industry has been the only form of passenger transportation ignored by Congress over the past 10 months of the pandemic."

He added that while the industry has "strong hope" that Congress would include an appropriate amount of funding for the industry in the latest package, that funding has been "diverted to prop up highway projects suffering due to low gas tax revenue."

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The ABA named six bipartisan lawmakers, who introduced legislation that would allocate $10 billion to the private bus industry over the summer, but those funds were cut to $8 billion amid negotiations two weeks ago and $2 billion in final legislation was released on Monday, according to ABA.

"Once that final light turns off, it's over," Krepp said. "You have to start from scratch, and that's not something any of us want to do," Krepp said.

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