Usually, April and May is the busiest time of the year for McIlwain Bus Lines, President Timothy McIlwain said, but the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted that.

With schools closed, his buses aren’t running and that’s hurting business.

Bus companies such as McIlwain are getting paid a portion of the agreed-upon contract with schools because of direction and funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

But there’s still a shortfall.

The guidance from that bill only focuses on transportation to and from the school and doesn’t include field trips, athletic trips and extracurricular activities – which make up a large chunk of revenue. 

Normally, during this time of the year, McIlwain would be making 2,679 of those journeys for the seven school districts in Cambria and Somerset counties the company serves.

“We’re losing a substantial amount of income,” McIlwain said.

That works out to be about $650,000, he added.

All of the schools that work with his company have passed motions to pay the rest of the contract for students to and from school, but McIlwain said it’s still a “substantial loss” for the organization without the extra trips.

“Our buses haven’t run since March 13,” he added. 

‘All over the board’

Mlaker Transportation is in the same situation, Vice President Matt Mlaker said.

The four schools in the region that Mlaker transports for have agreed to pay the rest of the contracts without the extra trips, but some have also added caveats to not include fuel costs for the buses.

“It’s been a bit all over the board,” Mlaker said.

He is thankful, though, that districts see the value in the partnership with the company companies.

“All of our schools have been great to work with,” Mlaker said. “Everybody is very appreciative.”

Some schools have also used the buses to transport food or supplies during the closure.

None of the drivers at either of the companies is currently working, but both McIlwain and Mlaker said the employees are still being paid.

This is also under direction of the coronavirus relief act, in order to maintain the driver pools.

Maintenance and training

With all of this free time, McIlwain said he and his employees have been catching up on maintenance of the buses and continuing to hire and train drivers.

Mlaker said his crew has also been working more on maintaining the buses, and hiring and training more drivers.

For now, though, the companies are in a holding pattern until school returns later in the year.

McIlwain said his goal is to to be ready for school to open in the fall.

If schools remain closed due to the coronavirus, then the company will continue to be ready for when the schools need the buses again, he said.

“We look forward to school returning in the fall and maintaining our pool of drivers who do such a good job day in and day out during the school year,” McIlwain said.

Mlaker said he’s just trying to be prepared for whatever comes next.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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