Motorcoaches in D.C.

A look at some of the more 1,000 motorcoaches from about 400 companies around the country — including Arrow Stage Line and Navigator in Norfolk — is seen through the rearview mirror. A motorcoach rally was held last Wednesday in Washington D.C. to raise awareness for the industry's plight as it struggles with the coronavirus shutdown.

The motorcoach industry needs help getting off the struggle bus.

On Wednesday last week, Navigator Motorcoaches and Arrow Stage Lines — both of which have bases in Norfolk — were among the more than 400 companies across the nation that sent buses to Washington, D.C., in hopes of attracting the attention of legislators to the challenges their industry has faced since the coronavirus restrictions began in March.

“The point of the rally was to raise awareness concerning charter motorcoach service and the many different entities we serve,” said Don Oberle with Navigator. “The rally was a good start.”

Oberle said the group wanted to make lawmakers aware of the impact felt because of lack of federal support for the industry.

Earlier this year, lawmakers included more than $50 billion in aid to the airline industry and $1 billion to aid Amtrak as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act but left the motorcoach industry virtually stranded on the side of the road.

“When dollars are dished out to the airlines and trains and zero dollars directly to the motorcoach industry, this shows the lack of understanding of our industry,” Oberle said.

According to the United Motorcoach Association, roughly 600 million people per year are transported by motorcoach. The industry also provides $20.2 billion in federal tax revenue and is one of the safest, most economical ways to travel, the association said.

“A motorcoach gets 240 miles to the gallon,” said Alex Busskohl with Arrow Stage Lines. “That’s not accurate in the sense of diesel miles to the gallon, but when you look at the amount of cars that it takes off the road and the amount of people that are on the motorcoach, it’s really the most economic way to travel.”

Those in the motorcoach industry would like to see $15 billion — $10 billion in grants and $5 billion in no-interest loans — allocated for their aid, Busskohl said.

Busskohl said the rally was an effective — if not successful — attempt to gain the attention the industry needed from legislators.

“The good news is we are getting a little bit of attention from senators. ... We feel like that is a small step toward the right direction.”

Lindy Walker, a bus driver from Clarinda, Iowa, who took Navigator’s bus to the capital, said it was “fantastic and powerful” to see the more than 1,000 motorcoaches arrive in Washington, D.C., for the rally.

The roughly 15-mile-long convoy took about four hours to complete the drive around Capitol Hill. Buses were decorated with decals that provided details of the industry’s benefits to the country.

Walker said the group tour portion of the motorcoach business is relatively small. The industry plays an instrumental role in keeping college athletic teams, church groups and marching bands rolling, she said. They also are one of the first businesses called when natural disasters occur.

Walker said she herself has received middle-of-the-night phone calls to carry emergency responders to places like Joplin, Missouri, after the tornado and to the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“If we’re not here, how are they going to get there?” Walker said.

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