The Fullington Auto Bus Company has voluntarily stopped service on all of its vehicles due to COVID-19, but four of its buses were on the roll again as the company made its way to Washington D.C. on May 13 to meet up with hundreds of other bus companies from all 50 states to demonstrate that the passenger transportation industry needs help.
“The pandemic has hit The Fullington Auto Bus Company extremely hard,” said Mike Dull, vice president of business development.
“For the first time in 112 years, we voluntarily sidelined all 300 plus of our vehicles to protect our employees and communities as well as help slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
The company operates school buses in six school districts throughout central Pennsylvania. It also operates 78 full-sized motorcoaches that are called on to transport U.S. troops, provides educational student tours, transports student athletes and it is always ready to help evacuate American citizens facing natural or national disasters — just as recently as those affected by COVID-19 in New York City and Philadelphia.
The company also operates 18 daily intercity line-run schedules connecting rural Pennsylvania with urban centers such as Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Buffalo, N.Y. and NYC.
With the fleet stuck in neutral, nearly 450 of the company’s employees filed for unemployment compensation. Fullington applied and received help from the Paycheck Protection Program, but that help is only available until June. This leaves many drivers and staff worried about the future.
“This is definitely a hardship for both our staff and drivers. March through June happen to be peak travel and tour season,” said Dull.
“Our employees rely on this time of year to help them get through the leaner times when volume isn’t as high.”
Twenty-four staff members planned to travel on the busses to the rally.
“We’re joining a movement organized by two leading national organizations — United Motorcoach Association and American Bus Association — asking Congress for their support with financial assistance just as they provided funding for the airlines, AMTRAK and other passenger transportation sectors,” said Dull.
“It’s our industry, the passenger ground transportation industry, that is often called to respond to assist in evacuation efforts when Americans face hard ships like hurricanes and other natural disasters. Additionally, we connect rural America with urban centers such as Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York City to name a few.”
The Fullington crew was accompanied to the rally by Lesley Kistner, public affairs director of The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, as well as the bureau’s vice president of sales and marketing, Dave Gerdes.
“The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau welcomed the opportunity to join Fullington Trailways in raising awareness about the importance of the motorcoach industry to travel and tourism, and the economy in general,” said HVAB Fritz Smith, President and CEO.
“The group tour industry is a particularly promising market for Happy Valley. Prior to COVID-19, the HVAB made strategic hires to actively pursue this desirable segment of the tourism industry and ensure that we get our share of visitation from it. We want to make sure the buses are ready and able to roll once we recover from the current crisis. For that to happen, Washington has to provide appropriate relief as it has for other industries. The tremendous show of support at the rally hopefully helped to drive home that message.”
The rally was organized to ask Congress for help in supporting further financial assistance by extending the CARES Act, tailoring it to industries like theirs, and adding specific funding for the passenger ground transportation industry.
“This will ensure the passenger transportation industry is still there for our communities when this pandemic has passed,” said Dull.
“This important industry faces a long road to recovery and requires immediate assistance that is flexible and meets both short- and long-term needs. And, 100,000 jobs are at risk for an annual $8 billion revenue industry.”