Every aspect of the entertainment industry has been disrupted as the world moves to control the spread of COVID-19, not the least of which is the transportation industry.
While Pioneer Coach and company president Doug Rountree are fortunate to be in a position where they are not worried about their long-term existence after this prolonged shutdown of the entertainment industry, the vast majority of the company fleet sits parked on a lot and his drivers have to look for work elsewhere for the time being.
Rountree spoke to Pollstar, giving an update about where is company is at and his view on the current state of the industry.
POLLSTAR: So what seems be echoing is that the biggest challenge is that no one knows how long this shutdown will last.
Doug Rountree: That’s the truth, no one knows the date. Bonnaroo pushed to September, so I guess the industry is trying to predict July, August. That would mean you’re not going see anything in April. May might be sparse. The CDC issued a recommendation to limit gatherings for 8 weeks, which would mean at least until mid-May.
What is business like right now?
Obviously all the tours are stopped. Right now, we’re having a lot of people call and request dates for late summer, fall. We’ve got a lot of bookings for summer, fall. We’re getting a lot of people that are wanting to extend their tours maybe one month longer.
We’re getting a lot of soft dates, a lot of holds, and we’re trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not, but I don’t think the managers know yet. In fact, I know they don’t. It’s too early to say.
So I’ve heard your whole fleet is parked on the lot?
Pretty much. A few stragglers are coming home, but at least 90 percent is in the lot. We have 50-something buses and nobody is out.
I don’t see anything happening until the middle of May. You see Bonnaroo move to September and that tells you something. But will people be up and running in June?
That’s the biggest problem, no one knows, and we continue to learn new stuff daily.
Are your drivers employees or contractors?
They’re contractors, but they can get unemployment. Our office is up and running, our mechanics and office people are still working (some from home).
We have 50-something drivers and some of them may drive trucks in the interim. People are looking to do what they can.
We’re interested to see what kind of stimulus package comes in. We’re looking to help our drivers however we can, but we can’t support 50 drivers with zero work. We’re in the same boat as any small business. Anyone that touches live – lighting guys, sound guys. concessions, security, everything – there is nothing left.
So you aren’t worried about your long-term survival as a business?
No, we’re not. We’re prepared. We’ve been prudent, we work hard and we’ve done the right things to set ourselves up for a slowdown. You don’t know the unknown and now we’re here.
We’re ready when it gets back. We’re talking to tour managers daily and as soon as everybody gets ready to roll, we’ll be ready.
What are operations like during the shutdown?
We’ve got people working at home in the next 15 days, some of our shop guys are on hand. We’ve got various buildings, but our office we won’t have more than five or six. We have 100 employees in total, but we’re trying to be mindful of doing the right thing, we don’t want a lot of people gathering together right now.
We will do a deep clean on every bus, because it’s the right thing to do. We’ll go through every single bus very deeply and have everything ready when it cranks back up. Because it’s not “if” but “when.” It will be back. Will it be this summer? It seems that’s what people are hoping for.
So our plan is to take this time and take care of our equipment.
We are also doing new safety videos. We are trying to use this time creatively, think about how can we make our systems better.
I’ve been hearing concern about a labor squeeze if there is a rush to put on shows once there is a clear date operations can resume. Will there be enough buses?
It’s a fair question. The industry could get squeezed. There may be 700-800 buses, maybe 1000 on the road at any time.
Right now, it’s just impossible to plan until we get dates, until somebody, the government or CDC says it’s safe to start getting back together. Once that happens, that’s when the floodgates will open and we will see if we have shortage or not. I do think people will try to go deeper into the season than normal.
We’ve got a strong driver pool and those guys are ready to get back to work as well. I like our chances of them coming back to doing what they love. Tour bus driving is different from driving a truck. So I don’t think our labor pool will be crunched. There could be a shortage of busses, it just depends on how many people reschedule.
Any other thoughts?
We’re hit from the same perspective as anyone in the live industry. It’s stopped. I don’t think I can add anything to that.