With Little Government Assistance, Intercity Bus Services Struggle to Regain Footing

Although intercity buses provide a crucial service to millions of Americans, the industry has been shut out of recent pandemic assistance programs while riders continue to experience dismal facilities and shrinking service options.

2 minute read

October 4, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Intercity Buses

Philip Lange / Shutterstock

Despite serving twice as many customers as Amtrak, intercity bus service did not receive direct aid during the pandemic from either the CARES Act or the American Rescue Act, writes Jake Blumgart. "For tens of millions of Americans, intercity bus companies like Greyhound, Megabus, and myriad smaller actors are an essential part of the nation’s transportation system." These services "have long served as a lifeline to areas without train or plane service, and for riders who don’t have access to a car. It is an essential service for rural America, for students, and for low-income people."

Because bus travel primarily serves disadvantaged groups, "advocates say that further federal aid should be extended to their mode of travel, as it was for so many others earlier in the pandemic. Failing that, local and, especially, state policymakers could help to fill the gap." 

Unlike other transportation industries, the deregulation of intercity bus travel in the 1980s "did not spur a surge of new entrants or innovation. Instead, Greyhound gobbled up many of its big competitors while downsizing its operations" before going bankrupt in 1990. "Today, very few operators are stopping on the side of a country road. Although Greyhound is still the largest motorcoach company, it is a shadow of its former self and the newer competitors that finally started to emerge in the 2000s were largely non-union." 

This year, as the Delta variant started to spread, only roughly 60 percent of riders have returned to intercity buses, and the companies are still struggling to rebuild. Blumgart argues that "[t]he industry never saw the public intervention that surrounds rail and airline travel because, for the most part, both its riders and its operators are unheard in policy circles." But even in the absence of federal aid, "[b]us advocates say that local officials can ensure riders have access to decent facilities," such as accommodations beyond city sidewalks or parking lots with no shelter from the elements.

Thursday, September 30, 2021 in Governing

Aerial view of homes on beach in Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii Passes First Legislation Regulating Short-Term Rentals Statewide

The new law will give counties the power to limit number or short-term rentals and convert existing short-term rental units back into long-term residential housing.

May 13, 2024 - USA Today

Google office building in Virginia.

Virginia Data Centers Draining State’s Water Supply

Being the world’s largest data center hub is having a severe impact on local water resources.

May 9, 2024 - Grist

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Northwest Power Demand Could Surge as Data Centers, Transportation Electrification Ramps Up

New estimates project a steady increase in electricity demand due to population growth, data centers, and the shift to electric power in homes, buildings, and transportation.

May 17 - Governing

Blurred traffic speeding by on freeway with Los Angeles skyline in background.

California Testing Per-Mile Gas Tax Alternatives

A summer pilot program will test the fairness and efficacy of collection mechanisms for mileage-based fee options.

May 17 - Newsweek

Close-up of 'Pay rent' note in red marker on day 1 of monthly calendar.

After Months of Decreases, Rents Nationwide Are Going Up

Average rents rose by $12 around the country so far this year.

May 17 - Smart Cities Dive

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.