Motor coach firms complain federal bailout threw them under the bus

While the site of coach buses lining the streets outside the Capitol in Springfield dropping off color-coordinated protesters is normal during the legislative session, Wednesday was different. This time, it was the bus companies themselves that were doing the protesting.

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Coach buses converge on state Capitol in Springfield to call for federal help in pandemic crisis on Wednesday.

Neal Earley/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — When the federal government started dishing out dollars to struggling businesses hurting during the COVID-19 commercial airlines received a special $25 billion bailout.

Now the coach bus industry wants a similar government bailout, calling for $15 billion from the federal government.

While the site of coach buses lining the streets outside the Capitol in Springfield dropping off color-coordinated protesters is normal during the legislative session, Wednesday was different.

This time, it was the bus companies themselves that were doing the protesting.

James Wang, co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach, at the protest in Springfield on Wednesday.

James Wang, co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach, at the protest in Springfield on Wednesday.

Neal Earley/Sun-Times

James Wang, co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach, helped organize the parade of coach buses in Springfield saying it is a part of a larger, nationwide effort, to pressure federal and state lawmakers into bailing out his industry. The way that Wang sees it, if airlines can get federal dollars to stay afloat, coach buses should, too.

“These are all mom and pop shops. These drivers haven’t been on the road since March, and we’re trying to make awareness that hey, we exist too,” Wang said. “The government missed the bus when it came to the bailout.”

The rally began at around noon in Springfield, with 68 charter buses from 17 charter companies from around the state, Wang said.

Messages on the buses included “Motorcoaches Move Essential Workers” and “$15 billion Gets America’s Motorcoaches Rolling Again.”

Wang said most of Peoria’s charter routes, which include trips to Washington, D.C., Orlando, Florida, and Chicago have been discontinued for the moment.While there is still a demand to shuttle people to O’Hare and Midway airports, service has been greatly limited due to social distancing measures.

Coach buses converge on state Capitol in Springfield to call for federal help

Coach buses converge on state Capitol in Springfield to call for federal help.

Neal Earley/Sun-Times

Wang said his business can operate for only about two more months without bailout funds or losses regulation allowing more passengers on his coaches.

“Our expenses are $300,000 a month, that’s insurance payments, that’s coach lease payments, that’s utilities, that’s fuel, that’s mechanic labor, parts — 300,000 a month and we’re making zero,” Wang said.

Kelly O’Hara,a manager at Peoria Charter’s office in Urbana, said Peoria Charter is down to just sending one bus a day from Urbana to Chicago, usually with just 10 to 12 people onboard. That’s down from an average of around 40 people per ride before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re a little bigger company than some of the others,” O’Hara said. “We could survive a little longer, but the little companies may not make it.”

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