Operator urges drivers to describe impact of COVID-19 crisis

The words came when Connie Giddens couldn’t sleep. By morning, she knew she had to share her message on the closed Facebook page, “Motorcoach Operators,” because most of the members are drivers.

“I’m IN AWE of all of you. Every day you come to work with a smile on your face, climb into your seat and drive a computerized vehicle to go pick up 55 strangers and take them where they want to go. At the end of the trip, those 55 people are now your friends. AWESOME! You all are heroes in my eyes! I pray for all of you every day,” reads part of Connie’s note.

She co-owns the 30-year-old Pacific Coachways Trailways based in Garden Grove, California, with her husband, Tom.

She was surprised at how quickly people responded to her note, liking it and sharing the post.

Connie understands the power of a letter written from the heart. That’s why she’s encouraging drivers to let their elected leaders know the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the industry, and on them personally.

Letter made a difference

Tom remembers how his wife saved the business following 9/11 when the company was initially turned down for an emergency loan by the government. She sent a letter that convinced officials to take a second look at their application. In the process, they discovered some errors had been made in reviewing their file. They wouldn’t have taken the time without Connie’s letter, Tom believes.

He and Connie were at the Trailways annual meeting in early March when his son Michael called to let him know a group canceled because of fears of the coronavirus. A few hours later, two school bands canceled their trips. By the time the couple returned home, nearly all of their bookings in March and April had disappeared.

“We had about $550,000 of trips canceled,” said Tom, who didn’t believe Michael when he predicted the coronavirus would be more devastating on the industry than the impact of the 9/11 attacks.

“The difference from 9/11 is that tourism was shut down, business travel went away, but we still had our local work,” he said. “Before this, there hadn’t been a day that we had no buses running. Now, our fleet is just sitting there.”

Lines of communication

Michael sent out a letter to all the drivers, explaining the situation and encouraging them to immediately file for unemployment. The company followed up with “an optional, open discussion about how the shutdown is impacting our company as well as their lives,” Tom said.

Tom and Connie Giddens recently celebrated 30 years in business.

He was surprised by how many drivers showed up. They needed to talk, they told them. The meeting lasted three hours.

“One of the questions was ‘what’s gonna happen when this is over; will I be able to come back to work?’” said Tom, who became emotional recounting the conversation. “It was really hard, because I don’t know if we are going to survive this.”

But if they do, he told them he wants all of them back because, without them, he doesn’t have a business. The drivers often tell him they enjoy working for his family-owned business because they are treated like family.

The drivers offered to volunteer their time moving the fleet of 25 buses and motorcoaches, and catching up on training, but Tom said he didn’t think California labor law would allow those activities. The drivers account for half of their nearly 50-person workforce. The rest are office staff, sales, maintenance and cleaning crew.

Taking financial steps

Tom’s already begun filing for a small business emergency loan like the company did following 9/11. He is grateful his insurance carrier, Lancer Insurance Company, is allowing policyholders to quickly drop insurance on vehicles that will be parked for the foreseeable future. Three of his lenders have agreed to a three-month delay in payments.

The couple has urged drivers to tell their stories to their congressional leaders, who are putting together aid packages for those hit hard by cancellations of events and closures of schools and colleges to prevent the spread of the virus.

He tells them: “They need to hear from you about how all the businesses dried up, and now you are unemployed because of the virus, that you don’t know what to do, that you need assistance, and that this is your life.”

The United Motorcoach Association is making it easy for everyone in the industry to send a message to Congress to support immediate economic relief for bus and motorcoach companies and their employees. It takes literally two minutes and a click! https://p2a.co/eTZTLRM


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