Coronavirus Grinds Sports Buses to a Halt

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – The owner of Campbell Bus Lines, Todd Campbell, pauses and chuckles.“Yeah, it’s definitely hurt us,” he says when asked about the effects of COVID-19.

Campbell Bus Lines, based in Slippery Rock, Pa., is the primary transportation company for Youngstown State University athletics. Its buses could be seen frequently near Stambaugh Stadium and Beeghly Center throughout the academic year. 

But not now. Campbell, which also provides charter busing, has to sit and wait until COVID-19 passes.

“Our buses have just completely stopped,” Campbell says. “Our business is to take groups of people to larger groups of people. And we’re not allowed to do that.”

Campbell says company revenue has been cut to $10,000 per month. Since March, the company’s staff has shrunk to three, down from 150 before the pandemic began to affect business.

In addition to YSU, Campbell Bus Lines also serves Grove City College and Slippery Rock University; both have also postponed their athletics programs.

“I have a great relationship with our bank,” Campbell says. “Last week, they called and said, ‘We’re going to need to have a meeting to discuss our business plan going forward.’ I said, ‘My business plan is I don’t know when work comes back.’ ”

Campbell Bus Lines isn’t the only transportation company hurting from the pandemic.

Anderson Coach in Greenville, Pa., typically transports athletes from colleges and universities in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Its athletics clients are facing postponed seasons as well. 

“We’ve probably seen $1 million worth of business that we had on the books this fall, in the college athletic time period, go away,” owner Doug Anderson says.

Anderson says his company usually has upward of 90 routes. Recently, however, there were only six buses in use. He says waiting until the spring won’t help business because his company lacks the resources to handle the combination of fall and spring sports played at the same time.

Anderson was among 400-plus motor coach companies that lobbied for the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act in May. Although there seemed to be support in Washington, D.C., the $10 billion relief package has had no action taken on it since July 2. 

Anderson says the government is focused on helping other transportation industries because they operate bigger businesses. Coach USA, one of the largest busing companies in the country, closed four of its 25 subsidiaries, including Lakefront Lines in Cleveland. It will shut its doors in September and lay off 339 employees.

“I think there is going to be some sort of federal legislation that actually comes to fruition,” Anderson says. “The question is will there be a carve-out for the bus industry, which obviously, we feel that there should be. Unfortunately, the bus industry is composed of a lot of small businesses.”

Even if the bill goes through, Campbell says, the amount given to each company throughout the country would be minimal.

“There’s 3,700 bus companies across the United States,” he says. “Although $10 billion sounds like it’s a tremendous amount of money, when you start divvying it out over everybody, it’s not a whole lot.”

Campbell and Anderson will rely on their school bus routes until sports and entertainment return to normal. Campbell covers two Pennsylvania school districts while Anderson has four. 

Fall sports was supposed to be a step in the right direction for Anderson. He thought the situation would improve over the last five months. But the postponement of fall sports might have set the company back a year.

“That’s looking out there as if what my dreams are, are going to come to fruition,” Anderson says. “And they didn’t this fall. So I’m somewhat skeptical that will even be a problem in the springtime.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.