Few Iowa businesses have been hit as hard by COVID-19 as Carroll-based Windstar Lines, one of the nation’s leading charter bus companies.
The company has lost 97 percent of its business, and with tourism essentially dead and college sports in day-to-day doubt, Windstar’s projections for the rest of 2020 are bleak, Windstar president Jeff Greteman said.
The company is involved heavily in tour bus packages and has developed an impressive roster of colleges as clients for team travel.
While a second stimulus-and-coronvirus-relief package is far from complete, Windstar received a boost from a powerful place this past week from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who sees federal assistance for the motorcoach industry as key for the nation.
“The motorcoach industry has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “Iowa has many motorcoach operators, several of which are family owned. I have been in frequent communication with these Iowans, and I am learning that they are quickly coming to the point of making decisions on whether they can stay in business.”
Motorcoaches provide 600 million passenger trips annually across the country. By comparison, airlines provided about 925 million passenger trips in 2019.
Motorcoach companies, among other things, collectively have requested $15 billion in grants and loans and modifications to Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program to help save the industry from failing.
“While most other modes of transportation have received specific funding to help through the pandemic, the motorcoach industry has not,” Grassley said. “I spoke with (Treasury) Secretary (Steven) Mnuchin about this matter and have relayed the concerns from these Iowa companies to the relevant committees here in the Senate.”
Grassley said the government relies on the motorcoach industry to help move troops and also evacuate people to safety during disasters.
“The industry may not survive to provide this service in the future if they don’t receive support,” he said.
Greteman said it is encouraging to see Grassley speak directly about the motorcoach industry on the Senate floor.
“I have been in contact with his office probably a dozen times over the past few months and was able to speak directly with him twice,” Greteman said. “Grassley is one of the longest-serving members of Congress and chair of the Finance Committee, and his opinion swings a big stick. Him speaking directly for our industry should push a few more Republicans to consider voting for legislation that will assist our industry.”
Greteman said most people don’t realize the motorcoach industry really is the only passenger transportation sector that is able to get to any spot in the country.
“The airlines and trains cannot,” Greteman said. “We provide emergency support when flights are delayed due to mechanical or weather issues frequently. And we do the same for Amtrak when bridges are out, there is flooding, or mechanical situations that cause trains not be able to get through. And right now we are on standby for emergency evacuations due to hurricanes and tropical storms in Florida and along the East and Gulf Coasts.”
Greteman said that without government intervention for charter bus companies in the stimulus and relief packages taking shape in coming days, Windstar faces a threat to its very existence.
“Our industry is in dire straits as most companies haven’t turned a wheel since March,” Greteman said. “Two very large companies have completely closed permanently. More are going to follow suit in the next few months without support. The airlines, transit and Amtrak all received billions, and our industry was left out. We don’t have large lobbying group in D.C. like the airlines do. It’s a lot of small family owned business that are the backbone of the motorcoach industry.”