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Coronavirus decimates motor coach industry

Coronavirus has crippled the motor coach industry.

“‘Decimated,’ that is the first word that came to our lips in March,” said Tonya Greenawalt, office manager and wife of Todd Greenawalt, one of four partners who own Bollman Charter Service, Everett. “We have lost 1,225 trips due to the pandemic. That’s a lot of buses not to be on the road from March through the end of the year. We have lost over $1 million in sales. We are hanging on to the bumpers.”

Others called the loss of business from the pandemic devastating.

“In the 112 years of being a family-owned business, this year has been devastating to Fullington and to our industry. It has been very tough to lay off so many of our great, wonderful employees during this time,” said Fullington Trailways CEO Jonathan Berzas.

Berzas said the cancellation of the Penn State football season was another blow to his company, which provides shuttle service to the games.

“This is going to have a huge void in our operations and revenue for this fall season. At this time, we are anticipating a 75 percent loss of business in our Motor Coach, Charter and Tour Division for 2020. We are in survival mode, and I want all of our employees and customers to know we will survive,” Berzas said.

Shae Harclerode, co-owner of Raystown Transit Service, agrees.

“We have not turned a tire on a motor coach since March 13, and we don’t anticipate turning another tire through the first of the year,” Harclerode said. “Altogether, we have canceled about 250 day trips. With what we have lost to date and what we project until the end of the year, we have lost about one-half million dollars in revenue.”

Bill Scully of Freedom Excursions by Scully LLC, said the pandemic hit right before one of its busiest times of the year.

“All trips for mid-March through June were canceled over the course of one to two weeks. At that point all incoming revenue ceased. As the crisis continued, remaining trips scheduled for 2020 were slowly all canceled. Throughout our industry — not only here in Pennsylvania but across the country — 95 percent plus of the motor coaches were parked and companies were shut down. That’s 95 percent of 36,000 motor coaches parked. The majority of the 3,000 companies are small family-owned businesses such as Freedom Excursions,” Scully said.

The Pennsylvania Bus Association has thrown its support behind bipartisan bills, known as the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act, which have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

If enacted, CERTS would provide $10 billion in economic relief for over-the-road buses, including the private motor coach, tour and charter industry. The $10 billion would be used to provide grants and other forms of emergency assistance with at least half of the funds going toward grants.

“We need (the money). There are about 3,000 motor coach companies across the U.S. We are a small company. We are in the fourth generation of a family-owned business. We are not big like Greyhound. If we don’t get this, there will be a lot of companies that won’t make it,” Greenawalt said.

While the buses are idled, expenses aren’t.

“Even though we don’t have buses rolling down the road, we still have overhead. Our bus payments, insurance and many other expenses still have to be paid,” Fullington’s Berzas said. “We never want a free lunch, but we do need some sort of assistance. I thank God that we do have a diverse business with not only motor coaches but also the school bus division. The CERTS Act funds would help us get through the next few months that are going to be very tough.”

Scully said the money would help bridge the gap as the motor coach business starts to ramp back up over the next six to 12 months.

“The grant portion would be very beneficial to business similar to the grants that local, state and federally subsidized entities have received. No one in our industry needs another loan. Our equipment covers all of the loans that we need to possess,” Scully said.

Some in the industry are not happy that motor coach, tour and travel industries were not included in the previous assistance packages provided by Congress.

“This is very upsetting. Congress has given billions to the airline and cruise industries. The motor coach industry has more than 600 million annual passenger miles, just slightly fewer than the airlines. We as an industry are made up of mom-and-pop family-owned businesses throughout the country and only want our buses to be rolling. I have spoken to many other companies, and everyone is hurting. I personally know of five companies that have gone out of business in the Mid-Atlantic region including two in Pennsylvania,” Berzas said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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