Instead of transporting some of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry around the country, the majority of All Access Coach Leasing’s fleet of nearly 50 buses remain parked as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Since concerts and other large public events were cancelled beginning in mid-March, the Gallatin-based company has been forced to let go of 20 employees while an additional 80 percent of its drivers remain out of work.
“Our business is off about 93 percent from what it should be,” All Access Coach Leasing co-owner Eric Blankenship said. “We do have a few buses rolling, but we don’t have the capacity that we should be having. I don’t know that it’s going to come back either until sometime in the spring of next year for people to start really doing heavy touring.”
According to the American Bus Association (ABA), the motorcoach and private bus industry is made up of more than 3,000 small family owned and operated companies that provide nearly 600 million passenger trips annually in North America – slightly less than commercial airlines in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the organization says that as many as 95 percent of trips scheduled for this year have been cancelled.
Approximately 40 motorcoach operators and vendors that support them attended a meeting held at All Access Coach Leasing’s headquarters in Gallatin earlier this month to urge members of Congress to approve the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act of 2020.
The bipartisan legislation, if approved, would provide $10 billion in emergency economic relief funding for the industry that could be used for payroll, equipment, personal protective equipment, rent, leases, insurance and debt services.
“We were devastated in mid-March,” said Doug Oliver, general manager of Madison, Tenn.-based Pioneer Coach. “Everything came to a screeching halt.
“We want to go back to work, but we’re not able to right now.”
The immediate loss of business to the motorcoach and private bus industry during the four-month shutdown was $4.8 billion with approximately 88,000 workers furloughed, according to a recent report from the American Bus Association Foundation. Those impacted included drivers, mechanics, cleaners and office staff.
Despite the easing for restrictions across the country, the foundation estimates that approximately $10.9 billion in sales will be lost along with 62,800 jobs removed from the industry as a result of the pandemic.
“Our whole industry is on the brink of not making it,” said Jared Stancil with Anchor Transportation.
United States Rep. John Rose (R-Cookeville), who represents more than a dozen counties in Tennessee including Sumner, told local members of the motorcoach travel and tourism industry earlier this month that he is “reasonably confident” that Congress will approve an additional economic stimulus package soon.
“The further aid that we provide, and we need to clearly provide additional aid, needs to be targeted to the industries and the individuals that have been impacted,” Rose said. “Every day that we delay getting assistance to the industries that have been shut down and most severely impacted… it makes that harm more permanent and it means it will be a much longer road back to the vibrant economy that we were in the midst of back in January and February.”
While his company was able to receive federal financial assistance through the Payment Protection Program (PPP), Blankenship said the funding was extremely limited and not enough to last during the prolonged shutdown that the motorcoach travel and tourism industry has experienced.
If Congress fails to pass the CERTS Act, operators hope that they will at least include language from the bill in any future economic stimulus package that is approved.
“If this industry does not receive government assistance immediately, I can’t say how much of it will be left when Americans need access to economical and reliable transportation for work or for leisure or is in need [of] emergency evacuation services as a result of natural disasters,” ABA President and CEO Peter Pantuso said in a prepared statement. “As the economy tries to right itself, it is buses (that) will bring people to destinations, hotels, events and other locations that are also seeking to recover.”