Hit hard by coronavirus, Alabama charter bus industry seeks emergency funding from Washington

Bus companies from around the country will mobilize in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, May 13.

Posted: May 7, 2020 10:46 PM
Updated: May 7, 2020 11:02 PM

As businesses start to reopen around the country, charter buses remain parked for the last two months.

They exist in a business ecosystem that relies on large crowds, like concerts and sporting events. Because there's no telling when those events will reliably come back, it makes charter bus owners nervous for the future.

"If you go into next spring, there won't be a lot of bus companies left. I just don't see a lot of bus companies that have that kind of capital to hold themselves over," said Bryan Weeks, director of operations at Spirit Coach in Madison.

Weeks said that the first big sign for them that the coronavirus was going to be a major issue for his industry was when the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) cancelled the March Madness basketball tournament. 

"By the end of March, we saw such an influx of cancellations that we knew that it was going to continue to go until they either found a cure for it or figured out how to get the country running again," said Weeks. 

Between March and projecting into June, Spirit Coach has lost more than $800,000 in previously scheduled charters, which Weeks said represents about a third of the business they do in a year. 

He said they've been fortunate that they have received some funds through the Paycheck Protection Program and are working on securing other loans, but said about three quarters of their staff had had to file for unemployment.

A big hurdle for the charter industry is that it depends on consumer confidence. Even when they do receive guidance on when and how they can start chartering people again, there's no way to guarantee when people will feel safe and confident using mass transit. 

Alan Thrasher, the president of the Alabama Motorcoach Association said on a 56-person bus, if they had to maintain six feet between every person, a bus could only hold about 14 people, which would make it financially impossible to run the bus.

"I believe that consumer confidence in so many things, whether it be going to a stadium, a theater, a restaurant or riding on a bus, are depending on us finding a vaccine. I think that really is what it's going to take for people to come back and for normalcy to return," said Thrasher.

"The other thing is, with people being out of work for so long, they're not going to want to take the money out of their account and send their son or daughter to Disney World or wherever on a charter bus," said Weeks.

Thrasher, who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years, said without federal financial assistance to help support them, they're at a real risk of an industry-wide collapse.

"So many things hang in the balance, certainly the motorcoach industry hangs in the balance at this point nationwide," said Thrasher.

On Wednesday, May 13, charter bus owners from all 50 states will gather in Washington D.C. to stage a bus demonstration in order to attract the attention of lawmakers to the plight of their industry, which they said has not received the same kind of attention as other mass transit, like the airlines.

The event, called Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness is being spearheaded by the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association and their chapters around the country.

While they wait for Congress and the White House to help, they're doing what they can to introduce new cleaning systems and protocols onto their buses to help consumers feel safer when they are able to start offering rides again.

"To us, we keep our buses clean already, but we realize to get consumer confidence, we're going to have to clean the buses above and beyond anything that's ever been done before," said Thrasher.

With hurricane season coming up, they also want to reinforce for lawmakers that their buses are often called upon to help shuttle in first responders and volunteers into disaster zones and help shuttle out those impacted by storms.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 388252

Reported Deaths: 4781
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby49731687
Davidson44813429
Knox20269159
Rutherford18968169
Hamilton18210162
Williamson1209086
Sumner10566142
Out of TN900254
Wilson801684
Montgomery717286
Sullivan6979111
Washington6572116
Maury636472
Putnam614284
Blount608963
Bradley571637
Madison5602114
Sevier528735
Unassigned519025
Robertson404356
Tipton385839
Hamblen372462
Gibson339372
Greene335574
Dyer332652
Anderson323931
Coffee306043
Dickson305037
Carter298361
Bedford295734
Lawrence290237
McMinn281056
Obion278053
Cumberland272937
Roane255731
Warren251919
Jefferson245435
Loudon244320
Fayette236940
Monroe234146
Hardeman229538
Weakley227136
Franklin224538
Lauderdale213123
Hawkins213035
Wayne197610
Henderson195934
Trousdale192612
Macon190829
White188619
Rhea187836
Hardin186027
Carroll185336
Marshall185322
Lincoln177520
Cocke172030
Cheatham169617
Haywood168830
Campbell165324
Henry163321
Overton157736
Giles157649
Smith150920
Johnson147523
McNairy143734
Fentress126824
DeKalb124624
Hickman124619
Bledsoe12245
Lake11936
Marion118719
Crockett118428
Scott11737
Grainger108818
Chester106322
Decatur97413
Claiborne96410
Unicoi96026
Benton88016
Lewis81516
Cannon8104
Grundy80614
Morgan7996
Union7665
Humphreys7648
Jackson72510
Polk70915
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Houston60520
Sequatchie5845
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Meigs52512
Perry50922
Moore4202
Pickett39814
Van Buren3872
Hancock1964

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