Operator shares pandemic story with gov to show need for funds

Michelle Petelicki had three minutes to grab the attention of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy with the industry’s pandemic story in a request for $50 million to help save the state’s shrinking yet essential motorcoach industry.

“Could you imagine Hurricane Sandy without our 177 companies helping with evacuations? If we don’t get help, we won’t have the existing 67 around to help in the future,” Petelicki said in her testimony to the governor and lawmakers.

Michelle Petelicki
Michelle Petelicki is president of Panorama Tours.

Speaking on behalf of the Greater New Jersey Motorcoach Association (GNJMA) and its members, Petelicki made a short but compelling argument why the motorcoach industry needs $50 million of the $200 million left in the American Rescue Package funds. Michelle is the owner of the woman-owned family business in Wallington, New Jersey, an officer of the Board of Directors of GNJMA and its Legislative Committee’s chair.

Petelicki’s main points included:

Catastrophic losses. As a result of the pandemic, the number of registered motorcoach companies in the state has dropped from 177 in late 2019 to the current 67, of which 47 have fleets of 10 or fewer vehicles. “New Jersey has lost an alarming 61% of their motorcoach businesses, which outpaced the national rate of 51%, and sadly we don’t anticipate to return to any form of normal business until 2023.”

Impact on the public. Motorcoaches were key to evacuating people to safety and bringing in military and supplies during the deadly 2012 Hurricane Sandy. “Motorcoach companies provide critical transportation services for our military, our schools, seniors and the general public, all while being our greenest way to travel.”

Economic driver. In 2019, motorcoaches directly contributed over 5,000 jobs, $330 million in wages, and over $610 million in revenue to New Jersey. Beyond these direct contributions, motorcoaches are an essential component to the travel and tourism supply chain, bringing in more than $1.5 billion in 2019. “New Jersey needs the motorcoach industry to survive, and for that we need help from New Jersey. Our private non-transit operators were not included in the funding provided for New Jersey Transit.”

No big bailouts. The motorcoach industry didn’t get big bailouts like the airlines and Amtrak. The partially funded CERTS Act did provide some assistance to New Jersey bus companies but was over $500 million short of what it should have been. “Today we are asking for only 10% of that shortfall, equating to $50 million.”

Working-class clientele. Before the pandemic, the industry worked on very slim profit margins partially due to the predominantly low- and middle-class clientele that depend on motorcoaches for transportation. “We currently struggle with not wanting to overburden those that need us the most, yet we’re falling even further behind in our ability to pay our bills.”

Petelicki has yet to hear back from the state, but she’s confident that her message about how motorcoach companies in New Jersey provide invaluable services to the state’s residents and businesses was heard. 

“We are the most affordable and accessible way to travel, and with nearly two thirds of the New Jersey motorcoach companies already out of business, we can’t afford to lose anymore,” she said. 

At the request of the committee, she provided additional information that could answer any follow-up questions.

Patricia Cowley, GNJMA’s executive director, said she and Petelicki learned about the opportunity to request the funds during their biweekly call with the association’s lobbyist just before the GNJMA’s annual meeting in early October.

“We got wind that there was an opportunity to pitch our member’s need to receive part of the $200 million left over from the American Rescue Package NJ received,” Cowley said. “The governor wanted to hear from industry leaders before making any decisions on how to distribute the remaining funds. Michelle did an excellent job with the pitch and represented her industry peers well with passion.”


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