Rebound Indiana: Coronavirus puts the brakes on bus industry

Miller Transportation.JPG
Posted at 11:07 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 23:18:09-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Go stand along any major street and you'd be hard-pressed to spot a single school bus or motor coach on the road.

John Miller owns and operates both at his family-owned company, Miller Transportation.

"What has the coronavirus done for us?" Miller said. "I mean we were running 75 mph, I don't want to break the speed limit, and we were on the governor and then I mean shut down."

Miller Transportation operates in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, with Indiana carrying most of their business and employees. Miller has had to furlough nearly all of his staff, including roughly 200 Hoosiers. For Miller, the large majority of business comes from charter schools. He said his biggest competitor and disruptor isn't other bus companies, it's coronavirus.

"A lot of our contract, I mean the payments just stopped. They were paying the drivers, they were paying nothing," Miller said. "There was no make ups. We go back and look at our contracts and our contracts are a little soft in that we didn't anticipate the fact that maybe kids wouldn't go to school."

Miller said the government assistance that helps small businesses doesn't quite fit the bill for transportation companies who not only have to pay employees but also have to pay for buses, insurance and office rent.

While the bus industry is right behind airlines for the most passengers per year, Miller said he's not holding his breath for the government to bail out the country's 3,000 bus companies. Meanwhile, the airlines are taking advantage of about $25 billion in assistance.

"So it's like in the movie where the ants are against the grasshoppers," Miller said. "There's an awful lot of us but there are none that are really that big that carry that much weight, whereas the airlines, man those are some big boys."

Miller is hoping with better health comes a better economy.

"I don't think our business is going to come back until we take death off the table," Miller said. "I mean that's some scary stuff."