Remembering Our Pioneers: Franklin Bus Service

April 15, 1947 marked the day that Jackie Robinson, age 28, became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A true pioneer.

The motorcoach industry is not without our own pioneers.

1959: A visionary in Virginia has hearing with ICC

In July of 1959, Gurnie Blunt, appeared at an Interstate Commerce Commission hearing in Richmond, VA seeking interstate operating authority. Unlike today when entrepreneurs need to only file an application with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and a couple of weeks later are mostly all given Interstate Operating Authority, in those days it generally took several years, streams of paperwork, and a pile of cash for legal fees.

Even then it was unlikely operating authority would ever be granted and this could be especially true if you were a minority-owned company.

This rare photo of a Franklin Bus Service bus is courtesy of bus historian Paul A. Bateson/Flickr

Battling the Big Boys: three-year fight with Greyhound & Trailways

In those days you were compelled to prove there was a need for the ICC to grant you interstate operating authority, and that generally meant proving your intended customers were not being served by existing carriers.

Mr. Blunt had plenty of local support with written endorsements from the Franklin Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Jaycees, along with local citizens appearing at the hearing to testify on his behalf.

But as reported in Virginia’s Tidewater News back then, attorneys for Greyhound and Trailways opposed  Blunt’s application. Their stated reason for being in opposition was “we can handle all the business there is from the Franklin area.”

Even though Mr. Blunt demonstrated his ability to operate his bus line efficiently and safely, the Interstate Commerce Commission denied his application. A 3-year battle ensued, with Greyhound and Trailways fighting him all the way. His attorney advised him it was likely a lost cause.

1963: Persistence Pays Off

Persistence paid off though and in 1963, Mr. Blunt was granted interstate operating authority. Mr. Blunt was a pioneer and two-decades later the industry was Federally deregulated to the chagrin of those who previously saw little or no competition. UMA’s origins were rooted in deregulation.

These pioneers made it better for all of us

It is good to pause and to recall what it was like at one time and how those pioneers made it better for all of us. Mr. Blunt passed away in 2012 and his obituary summed it up well: “At the eve of the Civil Rights Movement, he endured many roadblocks however Gurnie never allowed his vision to die; he prevailed against Greyhound and Trailways for his rights to operate buses throughout this great USA. After obtaining his license, Gurnie, his sons and his courteous drivers transported people from across the Commonwealth on a Franklin Bus Service coach. Gurnie drove thousands of miles and many excursions across the United States. He and his drivers travelled as far west as California, as far north as Canada and countless trips to Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens, Virginia Beach and New York City. In 1991, Gurnie retired from his beloved Franklin Bus Service, Inc. and enjoyed traveling and spending time with his wife, family and friends.”

Ken Presley is United Motorcoach Association’s Vice President, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations, and Chief Operations Officer. 


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