When the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives came for his first tour of Lorenz Bus Service, CEO Mike Canine was surprised by the length and the quality of the visit.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, spent 90 minutes at the facility, about 17 miles north of Minneapolis, on April 3. He spent the time talking to employees and getting a better understanding of transportation issues facing companies like Lorenz. He even demonstrated impressive bus driving skills.
The 6th District representative is the House Republican whip, responsible for counting heads and rounding up party members for votes and quorum calls.
“You never know when your congressman is going to become the whip,” Lorenz CEO Mike Canine said with a laugh. “I knew that he was well regarded, and I knew that he had a role with the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) and was trying to get Republicans elected. But I didn’t know that he was going to become the whip. Honestly, I would have been just as thrilled with him visiting, even if he wasn’t the whip, because he’s the congressman who represents Lorenz.”
Informing politicians about the industry
The timing of the April visit couldn’t have been better. Canine is preparing for the Bus and Motorcoach Legislative Fly-In in Washington, organized by the United Motorcoach Association after a three-year COVID hiatus. He is among more than 50 people who will spend April 18-19 on Capitol Hill speaking with their senators and representatives about issues that are critical to the bus and motorcoach industry.
The industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that brought most passenger ground transportation to halt, forcing most motorcoach companies to downsize fleets and take out loans to stay afloat. Many didn’t survive. The private transportation industry shrank from 3,000 businesses to around 1,400 post-pandemic.
Canine credits Lorenz’s survival to providing a variety of services, such as school busing, State Fair park-and-rides and military transportation. The company is still a few years away from returning to its pre-pandemic scale, according to Canine.
Canine’s involvement with the legislative process began during the desperate times of COVID-19 when he helped launch the Gang of 11, a group of operators and vendors who worked to pass the CERTS Act. Congress ultimately approved $2 billion of the $8 billion requested in late 2020.
It was during this time that Canine began reaching out to Emmer’s office and building a relationship with his staff in Minnesota and Washington. Emmer co-sponsored CERTS. Those efforts began in the summer of 2020 have continued.
The communication led to Canine attending virtual town halls and receiving the congressman’s newsletters. After the congressman’s first visit to the Lorenz bus yard, Canine described himself as starting to build a relationship with Emmer. At this week’s Fly-in, he’s scheduled to speak to the Congressman’s staffer, who oversees transportation policy.
Behind the wheel
During his visit, Emmer walked through the facility, stopping at every office and introducing himself to the staff and talking to them about operations.
Canine had done his homework and had been watching the Congressman’s social media channels for a few years. He had seen photos and videos of him driving different vehicles during visits, from a forklift to a combine.
“When we walked outside, and I said, ‘Congressman, I have this bus if you want to drive it. It’ll go with your long list of vehicles you’ve driven on your visits.’ He laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m not going to turn that down.’ He got on the bus.” Canine quickly pointed out that no road laws were broken because it is legal to drive the bus without a CDL in the fenced-in bus yard.
“We got on the bus and we drove around the facility just for a second. He’s actually a heck of a driver. He made the wide turns. We then offered him a job for this coming Saturday,” Canine said with a laugh.
“At the very end, it was hilarious because we hadn’t even really talked shop yet, and his in-state chief of staff said, ‘Hey, Mike, we got about five minutes left.’ And I realized we’d been talking for an hour and 25 minutes. We’re trying to build the relationship, right? And so, in the last five minutes, I told him that I’d be remiss if we didn’t cover some of the industry’s talking points. So he sat up in his chair and we talked about the CERTS tax fix.”
“Historically, he’s a supporter of CERTS. He said he would continue to try to be helpful. He didn’t really make any commitments on if he could sign on to a tax or if he could be involved in a tax fix or not.”
A list of critical issues
They also discussed the Homeland Security grant program, which allocated a larger share to transit and Amtrak than the private transportation industry. Canine explained that Lorenz had been a recipient of that grant program, which had funded the fence, cameras and other security features.
Those protections proved essential during the riots following George Floyd’s death when fires were set in Minneapolis. Buses were deployed to evacuate the elderly in assisted-living centers and later provided shuttles to grocery stores for residents of the burned-out neighborhoods.
After one of Lorenz’s coaches, used to support police and the military, was shown on the news, Canine said, the company and his family were targeted.
“We had a number of anarchist organizations threatening my family,” he said. “They showed up at our bus yard and to my parents’ house. They were calling our switchboard thousands of times a day over several weeks.”
He shared that story with Emmer, explaining that private bus companies like his are essential infrastructure that support the government in situations of national security.
Canine also spoke to Emmer about the push for electric vehicle requirements, saying that the rush to create mandates for the electrification of large trucks and buses will be problematic. He noted it would be difficult to move troops if there wasn’t room to put military bags in luggage bays because the space was used for vehicle batteries.
“I do not think that the battery technology is quite there yet,” he said.
Canine also hit some other important industry talking points.
“We did talk for about a minute about the charter rule, because he was not very familiar with it, and it’s important to Lorenz because of our relationship with the Minnesota State Fair,” Canine said.
Since 2008, Lorenz has been the principal provider of the Minnesota State Fair Park & Ride service, a free transportation service provided by the state fair. Over the course of 12 days in late summer, the Lorenz system ferries 2.1 million people to and from the fairgrounds. The state fair has one of the highest attendances in the country.
“We do quite a bit of business with the local transit agencies that have some of their own vehicles at the same event. He asked me to put together some content and send it to his staff. I’ve been texting with his Minnesota Chief of Staff and other staff for the last few days.”