WASHINGTON, DC — Noting that the bus and motorcoach industry is an important link in the nation’s transportation network that has a major economic impact and employs nearly 90,000 Americans, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and (R-Maine) today introduced Senate Bill S. 4150 Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act of 2020.
This bipartisan legislation would provide $10 billion in emergency economic relief funding, in the form of grants (no less than 50 percent of total funding) and other economic assistance, through the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to motorcoach operators, school bus companies, U.S. flag passenger vessel operators, and other U.S. transportation service providers designated by the Secretary of the Treasury in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation.
“These bus operators provide essential transportation services for millions of Americans. Even as bus operators take a huge hit to their bottom lines, many of these companies have been on the front lines of COVID-19 response, carrying health care workers and other essential personnel where they are needed,” said Sen. Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD).
“These companies rely on a dedicated, skilled, and regulated workforce of nearly 90,000 people. If the federal government fails to act it will be hard to jumpstart the economy when demand for transportation revs back up. The road to economic recovery for these businesses is already long and steep, and in order to get our economy working again the federal government needs to extend assistance to this critical link in our transportation network.”
Sen. Collins, the Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, added, “Maine’s bus and motorcoach companies provide good-paying jobs and offer critical transportation service to travelers, schools, sports teams, summer camps, and tour groups. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these small businesses are struggling.
“Additionally, passenger vessel companies in Maine – including ferries and tour boats – are experiencing a similar strain. Our bipartisan legislation will provide additional support for bus operators, passenger vessel operators, and other transportation service providers to help ensure that these critical links in our transportation systems remain strong.”
In a bipartisan effort to obtain CARES Act assistance for the motorocach industry, Sens. Reed and Collins already penned a joint letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging federal support for bus and motorcoach businesses.
According to the American Bus Association, the $15 billion-a-year motorcoach industry, which provides 600 million passenger trips annually, is currently operating at about 15 percent of capacity due to COVID-19. As a result, most of the nation’s 3,000 bus motorcoach companies have had to furlough employees and their 36,000 vehicles are stuck in parking lots instead of out on the road.
During the pandemic, motorcoaches have been used to help move U.S. National Guard forces and remove civilians from dangerous situations, such as natural disasters, or recently in evacuating cruise ship passengers affected by COVID-19.
Virtually every source of business and revenue for these companies has been severely restricted or eliminated. The abrupt closure of colleges, universities, and public schools, the cancellation of mass public events like concerts and sporting events, and the suspension of most tourism means that passenger levels are likely be depressed for many more months. Even as states reopen their economies, the public is likely to be wary of commercial bus travel until a vaccine or other measures eliminate the risk of illness from COVID-19.
For those companies still offering service, there will be significant additional operating costs as they observe public health recommendations for social distancing, cleaning, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). These added costs come on top of already high overhead and insurance costs for the industry, with new buses, motorcoaches, or vessels costing $500,000 or more. And the vehicles in operation may require not only significant debt service, but also ongoing maintenance so they are ready when called upon.
While details still need to be worked out, the legislation calls for grants and loans not to exceed the amount of revenue earned in the calendar year 2019 by a recipient, explained UMA Chief Operating Officer Ken Presley today during the UMA Online Town Hall session. Activities that are eligible for the CERTS Act funds include the acquisition of services equipment, personal protective equipment, maintenance of existing capital equipment facilities including rent leases and insurance.
The fate of the legislation will be determined in the next five weeks as Congress negotiates a final coronavirus relief bill, explained Becky Weber, with Prime Policy Group, the UMA’s lobbying firm for the past 15 years. Giving an update during the Town Hall, she encouraged members to reach out to elected leaders in the next two weeks while they are back in their home districts and are available to meet with constituents,
“The CERTS bill is going to move as part of this broader COVID bill so these are our golden five weeks to make it happen,” Weber said.