Rural, Intercity Bus Companies Hit Hard by Pandemic

By: - April 30, 2020 12:00 am

Travelers wear protective face masks as they board a Greyhound bus in San Antonio last month. The private intercity bus industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Eric Gay/The Associated Press

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Ron Moore has been in the bus business for decades. He’s proud of his family-owned West Burlington, Iowa, company, Burlington Trailways, which connects rural towns with big cities, spans six states and carries more than 200,000 passengers a year.

While the multigenerational company has been through its ups and downs over the years, Moore said, it is now facing its biggest challenge ever: trying to keep running routes and staying afloat while the COVID-19 pandemic is practically wiping out bus travel.

“This could just end it all,” Moore said. “If we go out, these states are going to lose their rural transportation. It will mean passengers will have no way of moving on the ground.”

Other private intercity bus companies across the nation are facing a similar financial crisis, whether they run scheduled routes, transport commuters or provide charters and tours. They provide about 525 million passenger trips a year.

“Ninety percent of these small, family-owned businesses have just shut down, at least for now. There is no business. Nobody’s riding,” said Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, a trade group for the intercity bus industry. The group represents companies ranging from big players such as Greyhound and Megabus to mom and pops with fewer than 10 buses.

Intercity bus company services are considered essential — part of the infrastructure that moves people across the country. Often, they operate in areas where there may be no alternative transportation. But Pantuso said the industry has been forgotten by Congress, which did little to help when it passed its $2 trillion CARES Act, the coronavirus relief bill that President Donald Trump signed into law in late March.

“They funded virtually every form of transportation except the private bus industry. They poured a billion into Amtrak, they gave public transit $25 billion, the airlines got $50 billion,” Pantuso said. “We are providing transportation to and from a destination and service in and out of cities. We got no dedicated grants or loans.”

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.