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Driving the message: Bus firms need help 

  • F.M. Kuzmeskus Executive Vice President of Operations Pam Reipold talks with driver Ryan Kus with the bus that is headed to Washington to raise awareness about bus companies’ woes. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • This F.M. Kuzmeskus bus with the company’s corporate rental program, Travel Kuz, is headed to Washington, D.C. as part of a national movement to raise awareness about the plight of bus companies during the pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2020 3:47:44 PM

GILL — The F.M. Kuzmeskus bus company and its corporate rental program Travel Kuz will be among an expected 300 bus companies from across the country demonstrating Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The demonstration is organized by industry associations who say the federal government’s recent economic support measures overlook the unique challenges that motorcoach companies face in the coronavirus pandemic.

Pam Reipold, F.M. Kuzmeskus’ executive vice president of operations and CEO of Travel Kuz, said the motorcoach industry is less visible than many of the businesses that have been hurt by the economic shutdown of the coronavirus crisis. Many people may not realize how severely it has impacted bus companies.

“You know that the hotel is closed, but you forget that there was a bus that was going to take you from the airport to the hotel,” she said. “We’re very integrated to many parts of our country’s economy.”

As other parts of the economy that involve busing have stopped, the motorcoach industry has lost almost all its revenue, Reipold said, but its expenses have barely changed.

The two associations organizing Wednesday’s demonstration, the American Bus Association and the United Motorcoach Association, say their industry needs federal support in a more direct form than recent economic support packages.

They note that the $2 trillion support act passed in March helped somewhat; but while it specifically earmarked money for air travel businesses, public transit and Amtrak, it did not address bus companies’ unique needs.

They are advocating for $15 billion in aid directed to the motorcoach industry.

In Washington, D.C., the buses will follow a route that passes the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

F.M. Kuzmeskus driver Ryan Kus is bringing a bus the company had designed earlier this year after a design contest run by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County.

F.M. Kuzmeskus, locally, is well known as the school bus company. It is the largest school bus contractor in Franklin County, Reipold said. The company has contracts with most of the public school systems and all of the private prep schools in Franklin County, and with several of the colleges in Hampshire County.

Tourism is the company’s other major market. Through its corporate rental program Travel Kuz, F.M. Kuzmeskus coordinates bus tours up and down the East Coast for domestic and international travel groups, and is typically booked all summer, Reipold said. The company also works for clients like corporations and church groups, she said.

Almost all of that business dried up as soon as Massachusetts declared a state of emergency, Reipold said.

“We stopped rolling overnight. Literally,” she said.

But expenses have not dropped likewise.

Like any bus company, much of F.M. Kuzmeskus’ money is tied up in the buses themselves, which are covered by loans that the company is still responsible for paying back. A school bus is typically worth about $100,000, and a tour bus is typically over $500,000, Reipold said.

Plus, because the travel industry involves safety liabilities, it is highly regulated. To maintain their legal standing, Reipold said, bus companies have to follow training requirements and conduct regular drug tests, which cost money.

“Every part of our business still needs to be operating, except we’re not making any money,” she said. “Everybody is hopeful that business will return this summer, but as time ticks on and events are canceled ...”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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