WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Any other year, buses would be full of springtime school groups and tourists visiting the nation’s capital.
But this year, the motorcoaches are empty due to the coronavirus crisis.
Hundreds of drivers from all 50 states honked their horns in the streets of Washington Wednesday to get lawmakers’ attention.
“I don’t think they know how big this industry is,” said Stephen Ward, a driver for Mid-American Coaches and Tours in Missouri.
Ward’s 800-mile trip to the Capitol was the only one he’s taken in months.
“My schedule was booked up for March and by the time I got home, everything was cancelled,” he said.
“It has completely shut us down,” said Cortez O’Neal, the owner of Camelot Bus Charters and Tours in Alabama.
The coronavirus crisis has also forced O’Neal to pump the brakes on his business as the cancellations keep rolling in.
“I actually got a call about five minutes ago. A lady has already cancelled something for July,” O’Neal said. “It’s hurt us tremendously.”
The nation’s drivers argue Congress already gave billions of dollars to bail out other travel industries, like airlines. Now, they are asking for $15 billion in the next coronavirus relief bill to help the country’s nearly three thousand motorcoach companies survive.
“Hopefully everyone will see how essential we are,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal stressed companies like his aren’t just for vacations. They transport athletes, the military, victims of natural disasters and youth groups from churches.
“Those are the people that need to speak up for us as well,” he said. “The airlines are not the only ones that move these people.”
In the meantime, motorcoach companies across the U.S. are facing layoffs and permanent closures as Americans decide when they will hit the roads again.