Intercity Bus Service Gets No Respect from Government
By Jake Blumgart
September 30, 2021
The summer of 2021 hasn’t been the palliative the intercity bus industry hoped for after suffering a particularly bad pandemic. Ridership plummeted by over 80 percent as COVID-19 swept across the nation. But unlike the airline, rail or transit sectors, it did not receive any direct aid in either the Trump-era CARES Act or the Biden-era American Rescue Plan Act.
“The business traveler who’s riding an airplane has a bigger voice than somebody from a poor, rural part of the country who needs basic transportation,” says Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association. “I always tell people, we’re like wallpaper, we just blend into the background. They just don’t think about us.”
For tens of millions of Americans, intercity bus companies like Greyhound, Megabus, and myriad smaller actors are an essential part of the nation’s transportation system. Pre-pandemic, the intercity bus industry carried more than double the passengers of Amtrak.
Intercity buses have long served as a lifeline to areas without train or plane service, and for riders who don’t have access to a car. It is an essential service for rural America, for students, and for low-income people.
But intercity bus travel has been in decline for decades. Despite a resurgence in ridership during the Great Recession, and a blossoming of direct express services like Megabus around the same time, the industry began shrinking again after 2015. The pandemic took a terrible toll too, elongating travel times, driving many smaller bus companies to the edge of bankruptcy, and pushing thousands of drivers out of their jobs.