Minnesota coach buses leave for D.C. to demand federal help

State bus companies say they are imperiled and want similar aid to other transportation industries.

People standing in front of parked coach buses.
Charter bus operators prepare to depart from a parking lot in St. Paul on Monday, May 11, 2020. Sixteen coach buses from Minnesota charter bus companies are heading to Washington, D.C. to take part in a rally of bus operators.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

More than a dozen Minnesota coach buses are on their way to Washington, D.C., to ask Congress to rescue what owners say is an industry in peril.

The almost four dozen Minnesota bus companies run a total of nearly 400 coach buses. But they’ve been idled for weeks by the COVID-19 outbreak.

They’re joining hundreds of others in Washington this week to ask for similar federal help to that received by airlines and railroads.

Rick Thielen is founder of Redwood Falls based Thielen Bus Lines and president of the Minnesota Charter Bus Operators Association. He said buses carry about 600 million people around the country every year, nearly as many as commercial air carriers.

"We’re a major carrier all around the U.S. Not only in your larger cities, but also in small time America. Most of them are mom-and-pop family operations," he said.

Thielen said the coach industry needs $15 billion to weather the current economic downturn and so far hasn’t received the help going to other forms of transportation.

“There was $100 billion that was dedicated to transportation: airlines, Amtrak, city transit,” he said, “and the motor coach industry was totally ignored.”

Thielen said bus companies are key to everything from school activities to troop transportation for the military. But he said many companies won’t survive without federal help.

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