WASHINGTON – A record 116 people – including representatives from every state and regional motorcoach association and major national associations – attended this year’s Capitol Hill Day “fly-in” to lobby members of Congress about crucial industry issues.
And, for the first time, the United Motorcoach Association and the American Bus Association jointly hosted the annual event.
UMA and ABA traditionally have staged their own fly-in events, but this year they decided to join forces to speak with one unified voice.
“With this being my first legislative fly-in as president and CEO at UMA, along with it being the first joint legislative fly-in for the entire industry, I don’t think it could have gone better,” said Stacy Tetschner, who took over as the head of UMA last year.
“I am excited about the passion and commitment of the attendees in sharing their insights and personal experiences with their elected representatives,” Tetschner said.
“In many cases, I heard elected officials who were truly interested in better understanding operators’ challenges as business people, employers and constituents from the home community that they represent.”
Aside from regional and local association attendance, members of the International Motorcoach Group, the National Association of Motorcoach Operators, the Motorcoach Marketing Council and longtime supporter and sponsor Trailways participated in the fly-in.
In addition, the newly formed Asian American Motorcoach Association held its inaugural meeting the day before the event, and about two dozen representatives from the association joined the effort by meeting with congressional representatives and their staffs.
During the daylong fly-in, participants had meetings scheduled at 152 legislative offices with either members of Congress or their staffs.
“That’s 675 individual impressions that will be made on behalf of our industry in one day,” Tetschner said.
The main purpose of the fly-in is for operators to meet face-to-face with as many of their congressional representatives as possible to educate them about the bus and motorcoach industry and its concerns and challenges.
Ken Presley, UMA’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs and industry relations/COO, told fly-in attendees that it is more important than ever for the industry to push for less federal regulation because of industry contraction.
Presley said this is the “first time we have dropped below 3,000 carriers in the more than 30 years I have been in the industry.”
“The regulatory environment was discouraging for small fleet operators to stay in business,” he said. “And, the new entrant screening at FMCSA was taking six to 10 months or longer. This did have a significant impact on the industry from 2008-2017.
“In the recent past, the regulatory and enforcement environment has been best described as oppressive. The industry stopped growing by fleet and number of companies while the number of passengers served, primarily in charters and tours, has been severely contracting. It was about time the industry told Congress its story.”
As Congress considers legislation that would potentially affect the bus and motorcoach industry, fly-in participants asked their legislators to require separate and distinct impact analyses for rulemakings that affect both trucks and buses to take into account the differences between the two industries.
The motorcoach industry also is pushing for changes in Federal Transit Administration regulations so private-sector companies can participate more in the transit arena.
ABA President and CEO Peter Pantuso said lawmakers take notice when their local constituents take the time to meet them in person.
“There is nothing more powerful than having someone local make a visit to the Hill,” Pantuso said.
Becky Weber, managing director of Prime Policy Group, a lobbying firm that works with UMA, briefed attendees before their meetings with representatives, outlining important issues and giving advice on how to stress the importance of the industry.
Weber told attendees to emphasize to legislators how many people they employ, how many customers their businesses serve and the role their companies play in their community. The industry includes 35,000 motorcoaches, 600 million passenger trips and 69 billion passenger miles annually.
“These are the best meetings because you can develop a relationship with members and their staff,” she said.
Weber also reminded attendees that “you have safe drivers and you operate safe companies. On average there are 20 occupant motorcoach fatalities and five occupant school bus fatalities annually, while operating in a highway environment that results in nearly 40,000 fatalities.”
Fly-in participants were also urged to remind legislators that motorcoach travel is green.
“According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, motorcoach travel is a ‘low-carbon travel champ,’ emits less than one-sixth the carbon pollution of a typical car with one passenger, and choosing motorcoach travel over driving alone reduces CO2 emissions by an average of 85 percent,” Weber said.
Scott Riccio, president, owner and founder of Northeast Charter & Tour Co., has attended the fly-in for the past 10 years, and he said this was the best one.
“We got a very positive reaction when we told staffers that we had 116 people representing our industry. It made an impact,” Riccio said.
UMA board member Bob Greene, sales representative at Amaya-Astron Seating, has attended the fly-in for the past five years. “Consistency with the staff builds familiarity and builds comfort there,” he said.
Presley echoed that sentiment, saying the “best thing to come out of the fly-in is our industry is more connected with legislators, and legislators learn more about the operators.” “Everybody getting better connected and opening communication channels helps our industry. The legislators many times end up calling the operators for advice, asking ‘how does this affect you?’”
UMA continued its tradition of holding two campaign fundraisers during the fly-in. This year’s candidates were Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., both members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
“Participation in both fundraisers was outstanding,” Presley said. “As always, our go-to veterans were there for us and we were joined by many first-timers. Many thanks to everyone who came out for the campaign events.”