In just a few days, thousands of buses and motorcoaches have disappeared from the roads.
As the coronavirus pandemic is turning the world upside down, few transportation sectors are feeling the pain more deeply than the bus and motorcoach industry. Operators across North America have watched future bookings disappear as people heed warnings to avoid crowds in order to prevent the spread of the virus that has killed more than 5,000 globally.
On Friday, President Trump declared a national emergency and allocated up to $50 billion to help states deal with the crisis.
In the past week, the hospitality and tourism sectors were rocked by the cancelations of major entertainment and sporting events, from SXSW to March Madness. Both the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons. Colleges moved learning online while many K-12 schools are on hiatus through spring break in early April. Broadway went dark for the first time since 9/11. Walt Disney World and other theme parks will be closed through March. Cruise ships suspended voyages and airlines scaled back flights.
Most of these cancellations have been forced by states and smaller governmental entities declaring states of emergency.
What most of the canceled events have in common is that they fuel bus transportation, whether that involves taking kids to school, moving athletes to games, or transporting touring artists to their concerts. In just a few days, thousands of buses and motorcoaches have disappeared from the roads.
‘Never been this catastrophic’
“In my 35 years, I’ve never seen anything this bad – not SARS, the Avian flu or even wars. It’s never been this catastrophic this fast,” said Kevin Creighton, Fleet Manager for Avalon Transportation, formerly West Valley Trailways, in San Jose, and the treasurer of the California Bus Association (CBA).
In the San Francisco Bay Area, thousands of buses that usually shuttle workers to and from their offices now clog parking lots. Employees have been ordered to work remotely, due to fears of COVID-19.
For the first time Creighton can remember, San Jose highways don’t have bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. He and industry colleagues have spent their downtime swapping horror stories about what is happening to operators. Employees are being sent home or asked to take pay cuts.
He spotted a social media post about how one overwhelmed operator decided to put his fleet up for sale.
The ten thousand dollar job
Despite the cancellations, there was one well-paying gig that several operators passed on, according to Creighton. The $10,000 job required a bus and two drivers to spend 48 hours transporting people from the coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess Cruise ship docked in Oakland to Travis Air Force Base, where they will wait out their quarantine.
The biggest challenge in responding to the crisis is anticipating what the future will bring. The United Motorcoach Association is working to gather the latest information about resources to share with members.
“As horrible as it might seem as you look out in your yard and see all your buses there, don’t despair. We are going to be there to help each other through this,” said Larry Killingsworth, UMA Interim President and CEO.
UMA will host “Leading your Company through the COVID-19 Crisis,” an online Town Hall meeting this Thursday, March 19 at 2 p.m. ET. Join colleagues online to discuss this current situation and become better informed about the latest developments, how best to respond, and what this means to your business. In the meantime, find resources and updates that can help you on the UMA website at https://tinyurl.com/UMAresources.