A mainstay to the communities they serve, private bus and motorcoach companies are known for their dependable, economical and safe passenger services. However, the industry is perhaps underappreciated for lesser known, yet nevertheless very important, traits: their economic value to the tourism economy, smaller carbon footprint, transportation infrastructure and jobs.
As we approach Highway Reauthorization, we should all remember that there was a time when our nation's leaders and citizens understood the direct parallels between infrastructure investment and jobs. Of course when leadership and the media reduce the public debate to "bridges to nowhere" and pork-barrel spending, most hopes of objectivity can disappear.
While Washington debates the pros and cons of stimulus packages, perhaps the one true economic stimulus is the long anticipated Highway Reauthorization omnibus bill. Congressional leaders should carefully consider the connections that each project will mean to sustainable jobs before considering quality of life issues. Jobs equal quality of life.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs...
Our nation's travel and tourism economy generates $1.7 trillion annually, $115 billion in tax revenue and creates 17 million jobs. Tourism represents one of the top three industries in 29 states. And, guess what industry is one of the largest players in the nation's tourism economy? If you guessed the bus and motorcoach industry, you would be correct.
An "economic stimulus on wheels," bus and motorcoach travelers generate more than $55 billion annually in economic transactions and create employment for nearly 800,000 people. A single motorcoach group spending one night in a destination can generate as much as $11,600 for the local economy. A strong private sector bus and motorcoach industry is essential to a healthy travel and tourism economy and represents infrastructure and good jobs.
Reduce emissions, congestion
Each full motorcoach has the potential to remove as many as 57 automobiles from the highway; not only reducing emissions but congestion. Motorcoaches emit the least carbon dioxide per passenger mile when compared to other forms of transportation.
The Union of Concerned Scientists identifies travel by motorcoach as the clear winner when it comes to carbon footprint. Their 2008 "Green Travel Report" states: "Even at today's average occupancy rates, your carbon footprint will be a mere 0.17 pounds for every mile you travel on a motorcoach - the smallest footprint of any mode for people traveling alone or with a companion. A couple boarding a motorcoach will cut their carbon nearly in half, compared with driving even a hybrid car. And if they take the motorcoach rather than flying, they will cut their emissions by 55 percent to 75 percent, depending on the distance they travel."
For more than 30 years, Congress has afforded a partial fuel-tax exemption to encourage use of private intercity bus and motorcoach services to reduce carbon emissions and highway congestion. In 2007, the industry carried 750 million passenger trips, which is on par with the airline industry. On average, each motorcoach represents 22,000 passenger trips with a fuel efficiency of 205 miles per gallon. The fuel tax exemption is estimated at $34 million annually; a bargain when all the benefits are considered. The public is absolutely getting their money's worth, and Congress should continue to encourage increased ridership by leaving the fuel-tax exemption intact. And as ridership increases, each additional private bus and motorcoach currently equals 3.5 industry jobs.
It is quite possible that groups traveling by motorcoach don't even think about their impact on the economy, carbon footprints, infrastructure or even jobs, but Congress should.
Ken Presley is Vice President of Industry Relations for the United Motorcoach Association.