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Congress must act to help bus companies | READER COMMENTARY

The once thriving $15 billion bus industry was essentially shutdown last year because of the he pandemic. Now, it’s up to Congress to save this industry that millions of everyday Americans rely on for travel and for their jobs.

My bus company — A.S. Midway Tours — was started in 1965 by my father. It was the first Black-owned bus company in Baltimore and more than 50 years later, we are still one of the few Black-owned companies in the bus industry. Overall, Maryland’s bus industry employs 2,749 people directly and supports 39,000 additional jobs in the group tour and travel industry. However, last year I had to furlough employees for the first time due to the pandemic. And unfortunately, I’m not alone. Without federal assistance, the American Bus Association estimates that at least 40% of the bus industry could close permanently by year’s end.

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For the bus industry to survive, Congress must provide additional financial support. While Washington has been generous with its support for others in the travel industry, the bus industry is still reeling. The $2 billion in economic relief that Congress initially provided to the bus industry simply doesn’t cover the more than $8 billion in losses that businesses like mine have suffered in 2020 alone.

As a country, we cannot afford to let the bus industry go under. Buses are the most affordable and accessible way to travel. In fact, rail travel is often twice as expensive as traveling by coach bus, while traveling by car is almost three times as costly. That’s part of the reason why 574.6 million people ride buses every year. Buses are full of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds — college kids trying to save a buck, a young person chasing dreams in a new city, a retired couple who finally has the time to explore, just to name a few examples.

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It’s also important that we protect the many jobs that the bus industry supports. The bus industry directly employs 98,500 people in the U.S. — bus drivers, mechanics, operators, fabricators and more. These are high-quality jobs with specialized skills that provide for middle class families. In addition, the industry indirectly supports nearly 2 million jobs in the tourism industry, generating more than $86.4 billion in wages and benefits, as we transport visitors to thousands of destinations across the country.

Lastly, buses are the most environmentally friendly way to travel. The bus industry has the smallest carbon footprint compared to any other mode of transportation. By comparison, cars release six times more CO2 per mile than buses and aviation produces 10 times more CO2 than cars. If Washington wants to take action on climate, it cannot ignore the cleanest method of transportation.

We appreciated the support of Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and his colleagues in the House on the initial round of funding, but more must be done to help the industry dig out from the financial setbacks of last year and the additional setbacks posed by the delta variant of COVID. Buses connect rural areas and urban centers. We bring everyday workers to their jobs, children to their school field trips, and we are honored to safely transport our military service members and National Guardsmen. All of this transportation is affordable and environmentally friendly. If Congress doesn’t act, thousands of jobs will be lost and families will suffer. Let’s not let that happen.

Al Spence, Baltimore

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