Congress Must Act: We Can’t Afford to Lose Buses
Joint Op-Ed from Bill Torres and Yolanda Hernandez
December 11, 2021
ABA members Bill Torres of DC Trails in Lorton, Va., and Yolanda Hernandez of Five Star Tours in San Diego published a joint op-ed with Univision about the current state of the motorcoach industry and the continuing struggles facing the industry as companies try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charter buses are the most affordable and accessible mode of transportation that millions of people rely on to commute to work and their jobs. But if Congress doesn’t act now, we may lose the bus industry altogether. And that’s something the Latino community should care about.
There are about 3,000 private bus companies in the U.S., and the vast majority are family-owned small businesses. Our companies – D.C. Trails and Five Star Tours – are also minority-owned businesses. We have spent decades building our business from scratch and, during the pandemic, our families have invested all our time and effort in keeping them afloat.
It has been an uphill battle for the bus industry. Five Star Tours was close to filing for bankruptcy at the end of 2020, after nine months without business due to the pandemic. Five Star Tours would not have survived if it wasn’t for the money that Congress initially allocated to support the bus industry.
Congress created the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services or CERTS program in December 2020 with an initial $2 billion. While this funding provided some relief to Five Star Tours, DC Trails, and other bus companies, the program quickly ran out of funds as the industry suffered losses of nearly $9 billion in 2020 alone. And that doesn’t even account for 2021 losses and the continued impact of the variants.
The truth is the pandemic isn’t over, and businesses like ours continue to suffer. Nationwide 25% of the bus industry has already closed due to COVID-19, and this number could grow to 40% without more financial support from Congress, according to the American Bus Association. If that happens, we could lose about 40,000 direct jobs in the bus industry – many of which support Latino families.
Buses are a critical but often overlooked part of our nation’s infrastructure. For example, the private school bus industry provides nearly 40% of the nation’s school bus service in 200,000 yellow school buses. Buses also reduce congestion for urban centers by connecting rural and underserved communities to jobs, education, and other services and support tourism and group travel. Importantly, buses are the first to respond when natural disasters strike, ensuring that evacuees can make it to safety.
In addition, the charter bus industry is an essential partner for the Department of Defense. D.C. Trails, in particular, helps transport members of the military to and from military bases. Most recently, following the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol, DC Trails provided transportation services to members of the National Guard who were helping keep our elected officials safe.
Buses are also the most affordable and accessible way to travel. Rail travel is often twice as expensive as traveling by coach bus, while traveling by car is almost three times as costly. That’s part of the reason why 574.6 million people ride buses every year. Buses are full of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds – the retired couple exploring a new city and young people trying to make it home for the holidays.
As a country, we cannot afford to let the bus industry go under. If Congress doesn’t act now, thousands of jobs will be lost, and families will suffer. Let’s not let that happen.
Bill Torres is the owner of DC Trails in Lorton, Va., and Yolanda Hernandez is the owner of Five Star Tours in San Diego.