A family-run coach company operating for more than 40 years has become a local COVID-19 casualty following the end of the federal government's $90 billion JobKeeper wages subsidy scheme on March 28.
From April 30, the Tamworth to Brisbane service operated by the New England Coaches company in Glen Innes will cease.
The company has announced it will no longer run buses on its New England Highway route, signalling the end of any coach service through Armidale, Glen Innes, Guyra, Uralla, and Tenterfield between Tamworth and Brisbane or Coffs Harbour.
And those affected most by the end of the service will be the elderly and pensioners, according to second-generation business owner Daniel Arandale, who took over the business from his brother two decades ago.
"The Tamworth to Brisbane service has been operating for eight years, and our Tamworth to Coffs Harbour service has been running for nearly 10," Mr Arandale said.
"After tomorrow, there is nothing - they're all over red rover because of a lack of passengers.
"There are regular travellers who will be impacted because there are no other services. They will now have to catch the train link service to Broadmeadow and then the train back up the Pacific Highway."
Mr Arandale said the services stopped for a while last year in April because of COVID-19.
"Then when restrictions relaxed, we restarted again in June for three or four weeks, and then Brisbane shut the border again, and we stopped them," he said.
"We recommenced them at the start of December, and we've run them for the last five months.
"December through to the end of April is our peak period of the year, and every day they've run, they have lost money, so we drew a line in the sand, and we said we couldn't go any further."
Mr Arandale estimates passenger numbers on the service now compared to pre-COVID levels are down about 60 percent.
What has brought the services to a standstill is COVID at the end of the dayDaniel Arandale
"Before COVID, they were going OK, but there is not a 60 per cent margin in them obviously, so it's just crippled them, and they won't go any further."
Mr Arandale said his company was eligible and received the JobKeeper subsidy when it was available.
"But that's all finished now," he said.
"We connect with a bigger operator in Warwick, and his service has similar problems, but he decided to try to keep his operation from Warwick to Brisbane going until the end of June.
"We looked at doing that, but it's too big an impact on our business - we only have a small business.
"If JobKeeper had kept going, we could have staggered on for a while, but there is no other assistance available that can help compared to the losses we were taking.
"The end of Jobkeeper and COVID - that's what killed the services."
The Sydney to Brisbane intertown services have been in decline for 30 years, Mr Arandale said, which is what initially inspired him to introduce the service.
"That's why we put the New England Highway service in because Greyhound pulled it out, then they put it back in, and we survived that, but the numbers just aren't there now," he said.
"Thirty years ago, five or six coaches were running up and down the Pacific Highway every day. These days people are more affluent and independent."
Mr Arandale said about 80 per cent of his customers were low-income earners and pensioners, and the government was not offering any support for inter-town services along the New England Highway.
"In the past, we've approached MPs to help, but this time we didn't bother because the distance between what the service needed to operate and what it was turning over was just too great," he said.
"We are fully independent, and we did offer concession fares, but we weren't entitled to get anything back from the government - we did that purely off our own back."
The service was initially three days a week and was then reduced to two services a week, but it remained non-viable.
"I've got three or four buses I now have no use for, and I've had to let a couple of bus drivers go, but we still operate a school service in Glen Innes, and we still operate charter services around Glen Innes and Armidale," Mr Arandale said.
"Nobody is more disappointed than me, but we just can't afford to keep the service going."
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