Windstar Lines, a Carroll-based motorcoach operator gut-punched by COVID-19-related business losses, joined hundreds of other bus companies for a rolling rally through Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the collective plight of charter buses, the jobs and careers in jeopardy.
After spending nights in South Bend, Indiana, and Hagerstown, Maryland, a Windstar bus with Carroll representatives connected with other charter providers for the event last Wednesday to remind members of Congress and the Trump Administration that the industry — which has laid off or furloughed more than 90 percent of its workforce nationally in the wake of COVID-19 — needs federal assistance.
Motorcoach companies collectively are requesting $15 billion in grants and loans and modifications to Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program to help save the industry from failing.
“We are very hopeful our efforts will see some results for the 100,000 people that work in the motorcoach industry,” said Jeff Greteman of Carroll, Windstar’s president.
The company has lost 97 percent of its business during what are peak months for motorcoach travel in the United States, Greteman said.
Only a handful of its 152 buses are running, and those are on contract for a shuttle service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Windstar has 406 employees in seven states.
For the Washington rally, Windstar caravaned east with other charter companies from, among other places, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, eventually winding up at a gathering point in Woodbridge, Virginia, a suburb of the nation’s capital where 306 buses made their way to prominent locations in DC.
“Buses were led into DC by motorcade and as the three staging lots met up, it created a 13-mile convoy of buses,” Greteman said. “Exit ramps were closed and we rolled in the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane all the way into town. Once we arrived in DC we drove around the Mall (the location of monuments like the Lincoln Memorial) for three hours. There were industry friends that lined some streets and cheered us on. It was quite a sight.”
Jair Mayhall, a Carroll attorney and member of the family that operates Windstar, recalled seeing many of the supporters on the streets in protective masks.
“I think it was a good statement of solidarity with the motorcoach industry,” said Mayhall, who consults for Windstar.
Mayhall said he’s seeing strong grassroots support for the charter companies.
Today, across the nation, nearly every one of the 3,000 motorcoach businesses have shut their doors and laid-off employees.
“Most of these companies are small, family owned,” Greteman said.
Greteman and other motorcoach company leaders say they need grants-in-aid and loans explicitly directed to the U.S. motorcoach industry, as Congress and President Trump did with the airlines, to save employees’ jobs and careers and the industry.
Greteman has spoken with Iowa’s federal delegation.
Because there are not large dominant motorcoach companies, as with the airlines, the politics of relief plays out differently.
“The easy quick fixes are already done,” Mayhall said. “It’s going to be mixed in a lot of politics now.”
The members of the Windstar team that went to Washington were: co-founder Mike Greteman, Jeff Greteman, Scott Greteman, Pat Greteman, Jackson Greteman and Mayhall.