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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

Confirmed Cases: 132452

Reported Deaths: 2335
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19306349
Mobile13233291
Montgomery8748177
Madison770978
Tuscaloosa7418116
Lee579261
Shelby578750
Baldwin514149
Marshall389244
Etowah340247
Calhoun340140
Morgan323926
Houston276423
Elmore259647
DeKalb237519
St. Clair226337
Walker225383
Talladega210628
Limestone203319
Cullman186818
Dallas175926
Franklin175229
Russell17322
Autauga171525
Lauderdale167333
Colbert162926
Blount158015
Escambia157725
Jackson154011
Chilton152431
Dale134644
Covington133427
Coffee12988
Pike11799
Chambers114442
Tallapoosa113885
Clarke107017
Marion95429
Butler91139
Barbour8517
Winston71812
Marengo70519
Lowndes65227
Pickens64514
Bibb63810
Randolph62713
Hale61928
Lawrence60522
Bullock59714
Geneva5864
Cherokee58315
Monroe5808
Clay5547
Washington55113
Perry5396
Conecuh53011
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw52732
Henry4835
Macon47920
Fayette4358
Sumter43219
Lamar3572
Choctaw34412
Cleburne3356
Greene30315
Coosa1673
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 186798

Reported Deaths: 2277
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30397449
Davidson26194297
Hamilton926392
Knox911575
Rutherford911388
Williamson513936
Sumner475093
Wilson341243
Putnam317038
Montgomery301543
Out of TN296825
Unassigned29046
Bradley288317
Madison278060
Sevier255315
Blount246123
Maury228923
Washington223234
Robertson218835
Sullivan209332
Hamblen187325
Tipton176617
Trousdale16517
Gibson158620
Hardeman154625
Wayne14896
Bedford131717
Dyer131413
Dickson123014
Cumberland116918
Fayette116718
Coffee115612
Anderson115311
Henderson115121
Weakley114519
Carter114128
Loudon11316
Greene111839
Obion11129
McMinn109424
Jefferson108514
Macon103320
Warren10197
Monroe101017
Lawrence100311
Hardin99115
Lauderdale94915
Franklin9458
Haywood93316
Lake9192
Roane8643
Carroll84918
Bledsoe8484
McNairy82418
White8069
Cheatham80510
Rhea79111
Hawkins78016
Cocke7379
Marshall7335
Overton7085
Smith69710
Johnson6622
Henry6129
Chester60510
Lincoln5961
Giles57617
Hickman5535
DeKalb55013
Crockett52919
Marion5167
Decatur4956
Fentress4623
Claiborne4384
Campbell4243
Polk38010
Grainger3603
Union3451
Benton3349
Jackson3145
Morgan3103
Cannon2810
Unicoi2811
Grundy2635
Humphreys2433
Sequatchie2262
Meigs2213
Clay2155
Scott2082
Houston1981
Stewart1822
Lewis1791
Moore1611
Van Buren1590
Perry1490
Hancock1073
Pickett1072

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