Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser understands the importance of the country’s motorcoach industry. He wrote this op-ed explaining the critical role operators play in the tourism economy and in evacuating people during emergencies.
Louisiana’s tourism industry has suffered tremendously as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those on the list of tourism impacted companies is our motorcoach industry. Confronted with unprecedented travel restrictions, prohibitions on events, conferences, gatherings, and school closings due to COVID-19, and significant maintenance and operating costs, the motorcoach industry sits in dire straits. Not only are bus companies vital to tourism, they are a critical part to our emergency management and response plans.
The industry, which is designated “Essential Critical Infrastructure” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, provides nearly 600 million passenger trips annually and is the primary mode of transportation utilized by FEMA to evacuate citizens in the wake of hurricanes and tropical storms. And, Louisiana’s motorcoach industry operates with minimal public subsidies compared to other industries.
Prior to COVID-19, the Louisiana motorcoach industry employed roughly 4,000 people, almost all of whom are presently furloughed. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on America’s motorcoach industry, shuttering more than 3,000 businesses and eliminating 84,000 industry jobs nationwide. Without assistance, it is expected 40% of the nation’s bus companies will close before the end of the year.
The state of Louisiana cannot afford for this to happen as bus transit is critical to our emergency management plans and hurricane evacuation efforts. Coach buses and para-transit buses contracted by Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development safely evacuated approximately 27,000 people to emergency shelters during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike under the state bus assisted evacuation plan.
A similar situation recently unfolded during Hurricane Laura with the evacuation of more than 400 residents from Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes by coach buses alone. Additionally, our state’s assisted living facilities and long-term care centers have contracts with local motorcoach operators to ensure residents are promptly and safely evacuated. Bus company closures within and around our state would limit our ability to adequately respond to a federally declared state of emergency.
Additionally, as an agency which actively promotes statewide tourism, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism has put forward a Staycation campaign for travel within the state highlighting our state parks, cultural and heritage sites, and designated Main Street Districts. As of 2016, roughly 20% of New Orleans households, 14% of Shreveport households, and 12% of Baton Rouge households were without the use of a vehicle. As the state’s top tourism entity we must ensure all residents have the ability to access our statewide cultural amenities.
In an ongoing effort to support the bus industry, especially in this critical time of enduring both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as Hurricane Laura, I have sent letters to our Congressional delegation asking for this sector to be specifically included in any future stimulus packages. The motorcoach industry cannot go unnoticed as they are a crucial part of our tourism industry and must be properly supported as we move forward in opening the doors to Louisiana’s businesses, events, and attractions that make our great state the best place to visit and live.