MILWAUKEE - A quiet night on the roads during Labor Day weekend 2020 has those in the motorcoach industry in a panic. Bus travel is way down, and there are no signs in the immediate future of recovery, but Congress could help.
At Milwaukee's Intermodal Station, few are traveling by train or bus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's cheap right now, but I'm kinda scared because, you know, people are getting sick," said Milana Phillips, traveling by bus.
The motorcoach industry is hurting.
"Presently, Coach USA is running between 15-20% as compared to last year," said Sean Hughes, director of corporate affairs for Coach USA and Megabus.
While extra precautions are in place for passengers' safety, like requiring mask usage, and guaranteeing the seat next to you remains open free of charge, many don't feel comfortable hopping back on the bus. The results of a recent email survey point to a bumpy road ahead:
"They don't know when they are going to travel by more than 50% so far in the survey," said Hughes.
Evaporated plans to transport Democratic National Convention delegates for the mostly virtual convention in Milwaukee in August, and this summer's Chicago travel restrictions further stung the industry. That's why Hughes is calling on U.S. senators to fund the "Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services," or CERTS Act, offering a $10 billion lifeline to the industry as a whole.
"We have not received any type of real federal assistance for our employees, and we are looking for some assistance in the next bill that's moving forward," said Hughes.
According to the American Bus Association, the industry has lost more than $11 billion since the pandemic hit in March, and without any help, could shutter 40% of small, family-owned transportation businesses by the end of this year. That could have a ripple effect, as many rely on these busses to get them to other major transportation hubs, like Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
"Overall, the motorcoach industry is just quite frankly feeling the pain," said Hughes.
Coach USA says one of its busiest routes in the Midwest is the I-94 Corridor, connecting places like Milwaukee and Racine to Chicago.
The CERTS Act is still awaiting action in Congress.