Washington, D.C. – The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected America’s bus, motorcoach, and passenger ferry industries, which serve as an important link in our nation’s transportation network that employs more than 100,000 individuals in Maine and throughout the country.
To help overcome these obstacles, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act of 2020, a bipartisan bill that would provide $10 billion in emergency economic relief funding, in the form of grants (no less than 50 percent of total funding) and other economic assistance. The funding would be distributed through the U.S. Department of the Treasury to motorcoach operators, school bus companies, U.S. flag passenger vessel operators, and other U.S. transportation service providers designated by the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation.
“Maine’s bus and motorcoach companies provide good-paying jobs and offer critical transportation service to travelers, schools, sports teams, summer camps, and tour groups. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these small businesses are struggling,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. “Additionally, passenger vessel companies in Maine – including ferries and tour boats – are experiencing a similar strain. Our bipartisan legislation will provide additional support for bus operators, passenger vessel operators, and other transportation service providers to help ensure that these critical links in our transportation systems remain strong.”
“These bus operators provide essential transportation services for millions of Americans. Even as bus operators take a huge hit to their bottom lines, many of these companies have been on the front lines of COVID-19 response, carrying health care workers and other essential personnel where they are needed,” said Senator Reed, the Ranking Member of the Transportation, Appropriations Subcommittee. “These companies rely on a dedicated, skilled, and regulated workforce of nearly 90,000 people. If the federal government fails to act it will be hard to jumpstart the economy when demand for transportation revs back up. 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.”
The CERTS Act has been endorsed by the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the Passenger Vessel Association.
In a bipartisan effort to obtain CARES Act assistance for the motorocach industry, Senators Collins and Reed previously penned a joint letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urging federal support for bus and motorcoach businesses.
According to the American Bus Association, the $15 billion-a-year motorcoach industry, which provides 600 million passenger trips annually, is currently operating at about 15 percent of capacity due to COVID-19. As a result, most of the nation’s 3,000 busmotorcoach companies have had to furlough employees and their 36,000 vehicles are stuck in parking lots instead of out on the road.
Virtually every source of business and revenue for these companies has been severely restricted or eliminated. The abrupt closure of colleges, universities, and public schools; the cancellation of mass public events like concerts and sporting events; and the suspension of most tourism means that passenger levels are likely to be depressed for many more months. Even as states reopen their economies, the public is likely to be wary of commercial bus travel until a vaccine or other measures eliminate the risk of illness from COVID-19.
For those companies still offering service, there will be significant additional operating costs as they observe public health recommendations for social distancing, cleaning, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). These added costs come on top of already high overhead and insurance costs for the industry, with new buses, motorcoaches, or vessels costing $500,000 or more. And the vehicles in operation may require not only significant debt service, but also ongoing maintenance so they are ready when called upon.