On May 13, hundreds of motorcoaches representing 3,000 companies across the United States and more than 100,000 of their employees drove into the nation’s capital and past the U.S. Capitol as part of the Motorcoach Rolling Awareness Campaign. This campaign was meant to bring awareness to the critical role the bus industry has in the country’s infrastructure.
“Since the pandemic has started, the bus industry has been out of sight, out of mind,” said Lindy Walker.
Walker lives in Clarinda and has been driving motorcoaches for the past 21 years. She is a driver for Navigator of Nebraska.
“You hear about the government bailing out airplane companies and Amtrak,” said Walker, “but no federal stimulus funding has come along to help the bus industry.”
Walker said buses provide transportation to American military troops, athletes and during national disasters evacuating victims. She said she helped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. While working for Arrow in Kansas City, Walker said she was called in the middle of the night to take volunteers to Joplin, Missouri, after the tornado in 2011.
“We’re always called on when there is a disaster,” said Walker.
In a press release from American Bus Association (ABA), it stated during natural disasters, buses are vital to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state emergency response efforts, moving people efficiently and effectively to safety.
ABA stated in their press release that throughout the ongoing national response to the coronavirus, buses are bringing medical personnel and essential workers to the frontlines. It goes on to say though that because of the COVID-19, nearly every motorcoach sits idle.
The cancelation of all sporting events has impacted the bus industry as well. Walker said the bus industry is who provided the transportation for teams to get from the airplanes to the arenas.
Walker said the bus industry slipped through the hole because they have been parked and out of sight since Feb. 14. She said the coronavirus pandemic has crippled the bus industry.
The ABA press release states the bus industry is comprised primarily of family and independently owned businesses and provides an economical and eco-friendly mode of transportation to servicemen and women, families and church groups, taking up to 50 cars off the road.
The purpose of the Rolling Awareness Campaign is to showcase how the buses and small businesses move America and to ask Congress and the White House to extend economic relief to motorcoach companies.
Walker said buses would display signs with messages explaining the importance of the industry.
It’s going to be a once in a lifetime event for the motorcoach industry,” said Walker. “The public, to me, has lost sight of what we do.”
The Motorcoach Rolling Awareness event was intended to be positive and is organized by the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association.
In the ABA press release, it states while motorcoach companies support the public health restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, they are concerned for their employees and whether there will be jobs for them when the crisis is over. The press release states that the motorcoach industry feels they are an essential part of the nation’s transportation network and economy and is asking for assistance to prevent the closing of operations.
The event will stage at DC’s Audi Field, south of the U.S. Capitol and motorcoaches will begin rolling at 10:30 a.m.
Neihart Tour and Travel is a family-owned business in Braddyville. Owners Monroe and Janet Neihart have been in business for 31 years and consider their customers to be family.
The tour company caters to people that are in the 55 and older age range that are more susceptible to COVID-19.
“We don’t want to run early,” said Janet. “We’d rather just sit tight and wait until it’s safe to go. We think of our customers like family and we want them to be safe and we want to keep ourselves safe.”
Janet said they don’t want to try and separate passengers on the bus because it is not cost-effective. She said the company has an exclusive contract with Arrow and pays by the mile for their tours.
“We’ve moved most of our tours until the fall,” said Janet. “and we’ve moved some to next year.”
Janet said tours that were planned for areas that have been greatly impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 like New York City and New Orleans had been postponed until next year. She said hopefully by then they will be able to travel to those areas.
She said their April and June Branson tours had rescheduled to the end of the year. She said there was only one show that wouldn’t honor the original pricing, so Neihart picked up the slack and honored the pricing.
“I know we’re off the road and no money is coming in except off the farm,” said Janet. “We’re in a better position than a lot of people are because we are on the farm. We can go outside anytime we want and we can raise a garden and we have our own food. We don’t have to depend so much on the grocery store or the meat cutters.”
Janet said they are following the direction of the Government closely.
“Even when the government says it’s safe, we still may not run,” said Janet. “If people are telling us no, then we’re just going to wait.”
Janet said they are thankful they can stay off the road without too much of a hardship or impact on their livelihood.