‘End of the Line’: School Bus Industry in Crisis Because of the Coronavirus

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In early July, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act, which would provide $10 billion in emergency grants to school bus and motor coach companies. There has been no movement on the bill.

“These bus operators provide essential transportation services for millions of Americans,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and the lead sponsor of the legislation. “If the federal government fails to act, it will be hard to jump-start the economy when demand for transportation revs back up.”

The realities of running a school bus company during the pandemic pose a challenge.

Many states require buses to be no more than four to six years old, causing many companies to carry a constant loan payment on their fleet. An average school bus costs $90,000 to $120,000 to buy, according to industry experts. Monthly insurance premiums can range from $2,500 to $4,000 per bus, experts said. If buses remain idle, the likelihood of mechanical failure increases.

Additionally, many private school bus companies also operate private motor coaches, according to industry experts. Demand for those services has nearly evaporated, worsening the overall financial health of bus companies.

“It’s been a nice combination,” Mr. Every said of having a business that relied on a mix of school bus and motor coach revenue. “Now I walk out and say, ‘Wow, look at all these parked buses.’”

Another casualty has been the widespread layoffs of bus drivers. Amalgamated Transit Union, one of the largest unions representing school bus drivers, estimates nearly 13,000 of a work force of 20,000 have been furloughed, or about 65 percent.

For bus drivers like Dena Drake, 45, who was laid off from her bus route outside Chicago, there is no idea when she will go back to work.

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