Yellowstone, Grand Teton parks to resume bus operations

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have resumed large group tours with safety measures intended to limit the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks and being tested with 72 hours before the trip or showing proof of vaccination.

American Bus Association President Pete Pantuso called it a “reasonable” approach, citing increased demand and interest from people to visit, The Billings Gazette reported. However, he said he doesn’t expect charter and bus operations to see a lot of traffic until later in the summer and fall.

Officials at Yellowstone National Park stopped all bus traffic in the park last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to delaying park openings, reducing park staff and and enhancing cleaning measures at public facilities.

The American Bus Association said the tour side of the bus business took a hit last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. About 3,000 motorcoach companies and 36,000 buses, each with a 50-passenger capacity, were “brought to a standstill,” according to the association’s website.

Pantuso said the three sectors of the busing business — which includes passenger services like Greyhound — saw a combined declined in revenue from $15 billion in 2019 to $2 billion last year.

“This year we may hit $5 billion,” Pantuso said. “We think it will be a slow return.”

Morgan Warthin, a spokesperson for Yellowstone, stressed that the bus industry offered the idea to test all riders or require vaccinations, not the park agency.

“Importantly, this is not a ‘vaccine mandate’ imposed by Yellowstone, but rather a collaborative effort with the industry to allow operators to increase capacity,” Warthin said, citing increased visitation and tourism as more people are wanting to be outdoors.

Bus charter providers must now meet park standards for vaccinations or testing or be limited to 50% capacity or 10 people, including the driver and guide, whichever is greater. The details of the agreement are outlined in the park’s 2021 Commercial Vehicle Occupancy Standards.

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