The motorcoach industry has been brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic: Ongoing expenses involving insurance, maintenance and bus facilities remain, but there are no revenues coming in to offset the costs, said Trevor Janich, who manages motorcoach tours for Olander Bus in Detroit Lakes.
Unlike air and train travel, the motorcoach industry has seen no special help directed its way by the federal government, and that needs to change, Janich said.
That’s why he and his wife, Angela, are leaving Detroit Lakes today, May 10, in an Olander Bus Service motorcoach to join a rolling rally in Washington on Wednesday, May 13, involving about 500 buses from across the nation.
“We’re no different than the airlines or Amtrak,” Janich said in a telephone interview Saturday. “If they’re not rolling, they’re not getting paid. The government said they needed help -- why can’t we get the same help?”
While bus companies are eligible for the same coronavirus-related small business loans and payroll protection programs as other small businesses, those have proven difficult or impossible to access for many motorcoach services, he said.
“We have been hit hard,” he said. “Motorcoaches are needed in America. If we don’t get the same attention that others have gotten, our bus companies may not be there anymore.”
The Janiches plan to leave Detroit Lakes in the afternoon, rendezvous in St. Paul with 18 or 19 other buses from across Minnesota, then travel on toward the nation’s capital, stopping in Illinois and then in Indiana, where a major event is planned, he said.
Three convoy routes are planned to Washington: one with 50 buses (one from each state), a second convoy with buses representing each participating motor coach carrier, and a third route with the remaining buses.
The bus rally in Washington on Wednesday may look a bit like organized chaos, but it will actually be the result of serious planning efforts, Janich said. The buses will meet in staging areas and circle Washington in a sort of moving rally, with signs that explain the importance of the industry and that ask lawmakers for economic relief.
“We are here to support our country as well as our industry,” Janich said. “It will be a great experience.”
Precautions against COVID-19 will be taken along the way and at the rallies in Indiana and Washington, he added.
“There will be over 8 miles of buses,” Janich said. “This is an unprecedented time. Someday we’ll look back at this and be amazed.”
The rally is called Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness, and is being organized by the industry’s two leading trade organizations, the United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association, according to a news release by the two organizations.
The motorcoach industry is asking Congress for help in the form of $10 billion in grants for operational and payroll assistance and another $5 billion in long-term, interest-free loans.
Airlines, Amtrak and transits have received more than $75 billion in federal help, Peter Pantuso, president & CEO of the American Bus Association, said in the news release. “The current economic remedies available to small businesses don’t address sectors like ours that will take much longer to recover from the current crisis,” he said.