Pandemic Has Depressed Bus Ridership, Too

Airlines and rail passenger travel have not been the only modes of transportation to see devastating plunges in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation’s intercity bus network has suffered a corresponding decline with ridership falling by more than 80 percent.

Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, said the industry is operating at about 10 percent of capacity.

He estimated that 85 percent of the 100,000 people who work in the bus industry have been laid off or furloughed since last March.

Greyhound bus lines, one of the nation’s largest bus operators, is operating less than half of its normal bus routes and has seen its revenue fall by nearly 60 percent.

In a statement, the venerable bus company said it has imposed temporary and permanent route closures and laid off workers.

“Our ability to provide critical service to communities—especially those that are underserved and/or rural—has been reduced,” the statement said.

Officials at Wanderu, a travel website, said that unlike airlines bus companies did not get much boost from the Thanksgiving travel period.

Industry observers say few people are interested in riding buses because it means spending hours with strangers in tightly enclosed spaces.

This could prove to be trouble for an industry that operates on thinner profit margins and has less financial cushion to weather the pandemic than the major airlines.

Even commuter bus services have suffered because many workers who once took a bus from their suburban homes to work are now working from home.

Also losing business have been companies that offer rides to major events, including concerts and sporting contests.

They’ve had to park their buses and lay off staff because the pandemic has all but wiped out the events that gave them business, including ferrying touring musicians.

Those who do ride the bus these days are facing higher fares. The U.S. Department of Labor said intercity bus fares last month rose 18 percent.

Bus travel is still less than other transportation modes, but given that much of bus ridership tends to be lower income patrons that could cause a hardship for some.

“This is a mode of travel that caters to people often who can’t afford cars — that need to go at the least possible cost from point A to point B,” said Joe Schweiterman, a professor in the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. “If prices jump, it might be out of reach.”

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