In a time of social distancing, Scott Riccio has had to forgo face time with his congressional leaders, but he still has found a way to have their ear.
Riccio, CEO and president of Northeast Charter & Tour Company, based in Lewiston, Maine — along with the six other operators in the state — has been able to set up a series of conference calls with elected leaders. He’s using this access to highlight some critical issues facing motorcoach operators with those who will be voting on the next stimulus package.
This week, the Senate and the House approved a $484 billion interim coronavirus aid bill that includes funding for the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and small business disaster assistance. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill.
Along with participating in the United Motorcoach Association’s letter campaign, Riccio and the others have organized meetings between a delegation of Maine charter bus owners and the state’s U.S. senators and representatives.
“We discussed how what’s going on in Maine is happening to 3,000 motorcoach companies and 36,000 motorcoaches that are sitting idle across the country,” said Riccio. “So, we certainly focused on our state, and then spread the word that it is an industry-wide concern.”
Town Hall session
So far, the delegation has met with U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.
The group is made up of the state’s major bus companies, along with smaller companies that do school bus and wedding trolly operations. During the meetings, he was joined by leaders from VIP Tour & Charter Bus of Portland, Custom Coach and Limousine of Gorham, Cyr Bus Line in Old Town, and Concord Coach Lines, based in Concord, New Hampshire, with operations in Portland.
A scheduled 30-minute call with Collins was extended to an hour.
“The senator told her staffer to hold the next meeting that she had scheduled and kept our call going for over an hour, and really listened to what we had to say,” Riccio said.
Riccio, who had done his homework, knew to be careful during the conversation to avoid saying anything that might sound critical of the CARES Act, because Collins had been a proponent.
“We knew we were in some delicate waters there, professionally, and we’re very cognizant and appreciative of all the lawmakers’ efforts for the country,” Riccio said.
During the conversation, the delegation explained why the PPP wasn’t providing the relief needed for the industry. Requiring that 75% of the loan be spent on payroll-related costs is challenging for an industry that has an expensive fleet of vehicles.
Riccio explained to her that each new motorcoach costs about $500,000 and most Maine operators own between eight and 25 of them.
His message to leaders is that the stimulus, while good, isn’t funding the industry at the right levels.
“We’ve been talking about not necessarily a 50/50 split but certainly along those lines of reducing that 75% number to a percentage that would be more helpful to us,” Riccio said. “We do want to keep our employees off of unemployment, but we told them the PPP is just not designed to assist motorcoach companies across the country.”
He added that Maine companies are seeing cancellations well into June and July, and even dates in the fall. Those cancellations leave questions about what companies like his will do with employees when the eight weeks of PPP come to an end.
Going into the meeting, Riccio had a good relationship with Collins.
“The senator is familiar with the bus companies we have in the state of Maine. We’ve always supported her and kept her informed of our industry,” he said.
Points to consider
While Collins was aware of a lot of issues, the delegation educated her on several points that affect the motorcoach industry, including that Carnival Cruise Line had canceled fall visits for cruise ships into the Portland market, Disney theme parks will be shuttered through May and Broadway won’t open until June 7. Also, the city of Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia National Park, isn’t allowing cruise ships until July 1.
“We wanted her to know how those things were affecting us, because there’s just no way that June 30 is a realistic date for us,” said Riccio, referencing the PPP cutoff date for financial support.
Since the initial call with Collins, the group had a call with King. The delegation’s plan is to speak with all Maine senators and representatives individually via conference calls while they are in their districts during the COVID-19 lockdown. U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Shelly Pingree have also agreed to take calls with the group.
“We’re hoping for the one-on-ones, and then staying in touch with them through their staffers and continuing to update them on a regular basis,” Riccio said.
Join UMA for the next online Town Hall meeting this Thursday at 2 p.m. ET on the Zoom platform to discuss the most current issues that matter to operators.