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Bus company makes a U-turn to adapt to COVID-19 realities, allowing drivers to regain work

BTE
Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 20:34:52-05

MODESTO, Calif. — Michelle Hodge has worked as a school and charter bus driver for 23 years. But last spring, she found herself like millions of others, out of a job.

“I actually had to move into my son’s house, being on unemployment, because it’s just not enough to provide for yourself on your own. It’s devastating,” said Hodge.

Hodge was one of 400 employees laid off by a California-based bus company.

“It was horrible, it was very, very depressing. I would call Donald and Sarah Storer quite often, asking them if they came up with anything. Do you think that our jobs are coming back anytime soon? Because sitting at home [was] awful and it was very terrible financially,” Hodge said.

Donald and Sarah Storer are the third and fourth generation owners and operators of Storer Coachways based in California. Sarah Storer’s great-grandfather founded the company to take kids with disabilities to school. Since then, the company expanded to coach tours and other services.

“There was an estimated 400 drivers laid off when the tour bus industry halted,” said Sarah Storer.

Laying off 400 employees was tough for Sarah. She and her dad knew they had to figure out a way to get their buses back on the road.

“It was definitely scary at first. There were times where I felt like, oh my gosh, all these years of hard work, like is this it? After 69 years in business and I’m the fourth generation family business, what’s going to happen next? And so my dad and I started putting our brains together and came up with this,” said Storer.

Sarah Storer had the buses retrofitted as mobile testing labs for COVID-19, and launched the Bus Test Express.

“It has the capacity for four stations, so we have four swabbing stations,” said Deleta Moore, a nurse managing a testing site.

One of the Bus Test Express units is testing patients in Antioch, California. People getting tests praise its convenience.

“Honestly, I was just riding by. I just drove by and seen it,” Tenekia Hill, a patient.

“Availability, actually. Location, close to our house, so we were able to book an appointment right away,“ Masood Aamaei said.

Sarah Storer says the units can complete up to 700 tests a day. Her goal is to retrofit buses and lease them to medical companies around the country.

“This option, for the first time, gives the healthcare industry a rentable, mobile clinic option that includes the full-service operations, drivers, vehicle maintenance, fueling, parking and logistics,” said Storer.

She thinks her plan can help get more people tested and put more drivers like Hodge back to work.

“I couldn’t imagine working for anybody else. The Storers, Donald and Sarah, have always treated me like family and have looked out for the drivers and whenever we need help, we know we can get it from them,” said Hodge.