Bus drivers are a big part of keeping our country moving, but like so many businesses the pandemic has kept motor coaches and school buses parked.
Connecticut's largest privately owned and operated passenger transportation company, DATTCO, is driving home the point that their industry needs support to stay afloat and keep drivers employed, even with school starting up.
“We need some relief just to get through it. Just to get to the other side when things start to open up again,” said DATTCO president Don DeVivo.
Wednesday, DATTCO hosted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is pushing for pandemic relief funds for companies around the country like DATTCO with no tours, leaf peepers, college sports, field trips, and big gatherings to transport people to and from.
“Just like they did for the airlines and Amtrak, we really wanted to be included in the group, to get the industry as a bridge to the reopening,” said DeVivo.
They say they all rely on each other, for servicing for example, when their buses are in other states.
“In terms of the charter side of our business, basically a complete stop in terms of revenue since March,” said Kyle DeVivo, the company’s assistant vice president of sales.
in a normal year, he says DATTCO’s approximately 75 charter buses would be rolling in more than $20-million worth of business.
Sen. Blumenthal is calling for support of the CERTS Act, which he says would provide financial assistance directly to the struggling busing and motorcoach industry. The U.S. Senate is back in session Tuesday and the relief bill is on the house floor.
DATTCO went to Washington, D.C. to rally for support months ago, but it didn’t make a difference.
And as the months move slowly, the company wants to make sure they can keep skilled drivers, so when the tides turn they’ll be back on the roads.
“We count on that income and all of a sudden we have to make a lot of adjustments. It’s really stressful,” said Diana Jimenez, a DATTCO motorcoach operator.
“When you’re home this long you just want to get back on the road, but you want to be safe,” said longtime driver Tony Queiros.
Much smaller Premier Bus Lines, based in Berlin, says they too are struggling and any funding would help.
Right now, they’re banking on their limo side of the business for small socially distant parties, hoping their promotion to take people to wineries, for example, will make an impact.
DATTCO company leaders worry about keeping trained drivers from finding other jobs for when traffic really begins to move again.
“We’re totally on board with an abundance of caution when it comes to protecting these students and making sure they're safe, but the reality is these drivers are used to a 5 day work week some cases 6 or 7 with charters and school trips and things like that,” said Kyle DeVivo.
And while one of the governor’s executive orders pressed for bus drivers to get paid during the spring shutdown, the company wonders how this shortened, hybrid school year will impact their contracts with more than 2 dozen districts.
“We certainly hope that we get paid for 180 school days, which would allow us to pay our employees for 180 days,” said Kyle DeVivo.
So for now, 2020 is leaving transportation companies and drivers we’ve spoken to feeling quite lost.
“I miss those trips and I can’t wait until things go back to normal because it was real exciting,” Jimenez said.