Operators raise awareness as they roll toward D.C. for historic rally

Sandra Allen will spend her 63rd birthday in Washington, D.C., taking part in the “Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness” Rally. 

It will be a memorable way to mark the milestone for Allen, president and co-owner of second-generation business Royal Coach Tours, based in San Jose, California, and Las Vegas. 

“I’ve been in this business since I was 3 years old and so, 60 years later, I’m fighting to save it,” Allen said as her coach cruised through Iowa in the late afternoon on Mother’s Day. She’ll reunite with her two daughters at the rally. Both work for their dad’s bus business. 

Her motorcoach will be among the hundreds representing all 50 states taking part in a historic moving rally May 13 to remind members of Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration that the industry needs federal assistance. 

Saving the industry

Forced to lay off or furlough more than 90% of its workforce nationally in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is requesting $15 billion in grants and loans — as well as modifications to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program — to help save the industry from failing.

“We have been impacted significantly,” UMA Chairman Jeff Polzien explained in an interview with a Minnesota news station “We are not going to come back as quickly as the rest of the economy. With us being small businesses, we do not have the ability for most companies to get from this point to next spring financially and we’re going to need more assistance from Congress.”

The rolling rally is being organized to showcase the way big buses and small businesses move America. Buses will be decorated with informative signs about the motorcoach industry, including the groups they serve, the economic impact they make and the people they employ.

“Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness” will be a one-day, one-time, grassroots event born from independent motorcoach operators, industry suppliers and state associations, represented by a joint initiative between the nation’s two largest associations, American Bus Association and United Motorcoach Association.

‘A connections tour’

The journey to D.C. has been an uplifting experience, with the coaches gathering support online and in person along the way.

“It’s kind of a connections tour,” said Kevin Creighton, fleet manager for Avalon Transportation, formerly West Valley Trailways, in San Jose, and treasurer of the California Bus Association. He has been doing a travelogue on his Facebook page about his journey to D.C. that began Friday, 

Kevin Creighton gives an interview about the rally. He caught a ride on Allen’s coach with five of her employees and her hearing aid dog, Lauradee. The bus is adorned with a sign that reads: “Calif – Wash, DC or Bust!!” 

Allen is making the trip with help from others who contributed more than $6,000 in four days to her “Save Our Buses” Gofundme page. Donations flowed in from friends, family, and even other companies to pay for the $2,000 diesel bill and hotel expenses. Along the way, friends, family, and longtime colleagues came to see them, often with snacks and meals in hand. 

Her youngest daughter, Lisa Allen, shared a video of more than 20 employees lining up for a flag-waving send-off as she pulled out of Reno, Nevada, where she runs the Amador Stage Lines operation. Laura, her older daughter, is on a bus coming out of Sacramento, the headquarters for that family operation. 

Staying connected

As operators roll together to save the industry, they are staying connected on the Facebook page, Motorcoaches Rolling For Awareness, which grew to more than 2,600 members in less than a week. 

Many are using the page to share videos and photos of their road trip adventures with the hashtags #busesmoveamerica #motorcoachesrolling4awareness #rolling4awareness #R4A2020 and #motorcoachstrong.

On the page, there also have been notes of encouragement from operators in Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Operators take part

Vendors have stepped up to help. Saucon Technologies and Samsara activated their Electronic Logging Devices at no cost for operators making the trip. ABC Companies provided banners to operators with messages on them.

Mechanic Don Zimmerman is driving his bus repair truck from Sacramento so he can help anyone along the way whose bus breaks down. 

“My main goal is to get out there and get the word out on this whole thing. All my clients are hurting really bad,” said Zimmerman, whose small business hasn’t generated any revenue in two months. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Operators have been getting the word out to their local media and on social media to raise awareness. For example, Creighton spotted a TV journalist when he stopped in Sparks, Nevada, and convinced her to interview him for a story about the rally. Unfortunately, the report didn’t make it on the air, but with the help of Zimmerman, he lined up several more interviews along the way. With his announcer’s voice, Creighton has proven to be a natural spokesman for the industry. 

Caravans of coaches

Many operators are traveling together, creating a caravan of buses with signs that include “Motorcoaches Move America’s Youth,” “Motorcoaches Help FEMA Help You,” “100,000 Jobs At Risk, $8 Billion Lost Revenue,” “Motorcoaches Connect Airplanes, Ships, Trains & You,” “36 Cars Removed From The Road By This Motorcoach,” “$15 Billion Gets America’s Motorcoaches Rolling Again” “Motorcoaches — Small Businesses, BIG IMPACT” and “Buses Move America.”

Jason Briggs, vice president of business development for VIP Tour and Charter Bus Company in Portland, Maine, organized providing the D.C. Central Kitchen with a ton of Maine potatoes, which are being delivered by another Maine operator, Northeast Charter and Tour Co. Inc.

Jerri Smith, general manager of Good Time Tours in Pensacola, Florida, is driving more than 100 miles out of her way to take part in a Florida convoy of 15 buses heading to D.C.

“It’s going to be exciting to see that many companies in one place like that,” Smith said.

Allen, one of the operators coming the farthest, says she is glad to see how seamlessly the operators are working together.

“It’s nice to see a lot of the companies come together. The industry is a little competitive, but we stand united. I say if they can’t hear us, they will see us in D.C.”

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