It was a sight to behold. More than 600 buses and motorcoaches encircled the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to call attention to their crucial role in the country’s transportation and safety infrastructure.
“We couldn’t have done it better. Everything was perfect,” said Bill Torres, president of DC Trails Inc., who oversaw the logistics of the historic event.
Under sunny skies, Motorcoaches Rolling for Awareness filled the streets between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, bearing messages that told the industry’s story and asked for funding to help companies survive through the economic shutdown until group travel can safely resume.
The event was jointly organized by the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association. The drivers were cheered on by supporters along the route.
A positive event
Despite the uncertainties of the current economy, the event was positive, especially for drivers and owners glad to be able to share their message and get out on the road, even if it is not business as usual.
For only two minutes, beginning at noon, drivers were permitted to use their air horns in a show of unity. Overall, the event unfolded with the precision and professionalism expected of experienced commercial drivers well-accustomed to operating in a major city.
In addition to the messaging about how the industry helps America run, vehicles also had banners describing how Congress can help the industry. “$15 Billion Gets America’s Motorcoaches Back on the Road” was a popular statement on the vehicles, making reference to the amount of combined grants and loans the industry seeks to get rolling again.
“Our ask is simple,” said UMA president and CEO Larry Killingsworth. “The U.S motorcoach industry is requesting Congress put motorcoaches back on the road by making available $10 billion in grants for operational and payroll assistance and $5 billion in long-term 0% interest rate loans to the industry, $5 billion in long-term zero percent interest rate loans to the industry, and modifications to the PPP and EIDL, providing funding through the end of the calendar year. Our businesses need a lifeline so we can be there when the country needs us next.”
The current economic remedies available to small businesses don’t address sectors like the motorcoach industry, which will take much longer to recover from the current crisis, added Peter Pantuso, ABA president and CEO.
“Airlines, Amtrak and transits have received more than $75 billion prop up these industries. Of the 3,000 bus and motorcoach companies in the United States, 90% are small, family-owned businesses who have had to close their businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. By having to shut their doors while no one is traveling, nearly 100,000 employees — which include drivers, cleaners, maintenance and repair, administrative and safety personnel — are now without incomes,” he said.
The event kicked off from a staging area south of D.C., and the caravan of the first buses in the procession received a police escort along the way to the nation’s capital. From there, hundreds more coaches waiting at Audi Field joined in, with the motorcoaches looping through pre-assigned routes around the National Mall.
Torres, a retired D.C. motorcycle cop, says D.C. police officers were pleased with the well-coordinated rolling rally, which was organized in only 19 days after the newly formed Ohio Motorcoach Association first floated the idea.
The event drew reporters from CNN, Fox, Reuters, and Nexstar Media. The bilingual Torres also was interviewed by CNN En Español.
Amy DeFrancesco took vacation time so she could join Vandalia Bus Lines to support the industry.
She is the national sales manager for the family-owned Drury Hotels, which operates 150 hotels in 27 states. Tour business accounts for $16 million in revenues for the St. Louis area hotelier.
“I want them to know that we do support them and they are a heartbeat for our hotels,” DeFrancesco said of motorcoach operators. “We need to find a way to keep these companies open.”
50 states represented
Dennis Streif, owner and vice president of Vandalia Bus Lines, says he was amazed to see how far operators had traveled to be part of the rally, which had buses representing operators from all 50 states. He made about a 15-hour drive from the St. Louis area, where his business is located just across the Illinois border in Caseyville.
“I hope this can get us some additional funding so we can stay alive for the next two to eight months, because it’s going to be awhile before the economy gets back to where it was,” said Streif, a UMA boardmember.
His nearly 90-vehicle fleet, mostly motorcoaches, has been parked for two months. The inventory includes vehicles for Southwestern Illinois Bus Company, a business he shares with his brother.
Robert Saucedo, a second-generation operator and president of Carreras Tours, is glad he drove out from Southern California. After weeks of the industry flooding Congress with letters explaining its plight, operators needed to make a bigger statement.
“I believe you need to take action versus just writing a letter. It means a lot more, and it gets the message across a little better,” Saucedo said.
Photos and video
He brought a drone, which captured images of the buses at the staging area as they began making their way into D.C. He’s been sharing the video on the Facebook page Motorcoaches Rolling For Awareness, where those who attended have shared their photos and video of the day. The buses were also greeted by supporters on the sidewalk who cheered them on.
Saucedo, 43, a member of the California Bus Association, is often reminded he is the future of the industry. He joined his dad in the business in 2007, when they launched Carreras Tours. Until this year, the business was growing and has been adding a bus annually.
His bus wore two banners during the rally: “Buses Move America” and “This coach gets 240 passenger miles per gallon.’” Both messages speak to the industry’s essential role in making sure transportation is sustainable and efficient.
“I just feel like this is my calling. I believe there is a future, and I hope to keep it going. I’m hopeful for it, and I think we will survive this. We’ve got to keep going forward.”