As Congress prepares to vote Tuesday on its first major stimulus package since April, a question increasingly heard is whether there will be enough money in the final bill to rescue an important-but-oft ignored means of transportation: America’s motorcoaches.
Little known and separate from major bus lines, the motorcoach industry has been a longtime blessing to lower-income Americans who cannot afford to fly and to rural Americans as their main connection to airports.
“Where the airline industry and Amtrak are being kept alive with $86 billion [in government appropriations], we’re barely being noticed,” Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association(ABA), told Newsmax last week.
Pantuso’s organization represents 800 companies that move an estimated 600 million passengers nationwide. COVID-19 has done nothing short of devastate ABA’s member-companies — nearly 99% of which are small, family-owned motorcoach companies. Some of them have been around for a century or more.
Specifically, Pantuso explained, the storied Greyhound buses “are now operating at 20% capacity and commuter buses are now at 10% capacity.”
Coming to the rescue of the beleaguered buses is the Coronavirus Economic Relief For Transportation Services (CERTS) Act, which includes $8 billion for the industry. Officially dubbed HR 7642, CERTS has 270 sponsors in the House who range from conservative Republican Darin LaHood of Illinois to liberal Democrat Alan Lowenthal of California.
The Senate version of CERTS is S. 4150 and it so far has 59 co-sponsors, led by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jack Reed from Rhode Island.
But these measures were put on “hold” amid the rush to hammer out and enact a relief package.
In the stimulus package that is now before lawmakers, the bus industry will receive $2 billion — far less than the $8 billion in the CERTS Act.
“And this $2 billion will have to be split with other transportation services,” Brian Shinault, chief executive officer of American Strategic Partners that is strategizing for the motorcoach industry, told Newsmax. “Therefore, it is not a true $2 billion for the motorcoach industry.”
He emphasized that the industry will need “approximately $15-20 billion to be sustainable for the losses in 2020 and the projected loss in 2021.” Shinault added that he intends to press for that amount in the coming session of Congress.
That is a tall order and the condition of this industry is one that is likely to be addressed by Pete Buttigieg when he is confirmed as secretary of transportation. ABA’s Pantuso told us that he doesn’t know Buttigieg “but I certainly want to talk to him about our situation.”
For now, Pantuso stressed, “we’re an industry many have forgotten about and we’re at a cliff and could go over it.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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