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Riding The Bus
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Greyhound A Victim Of American Shortsightedness


By James Donahue


I had mixed feelings a few years ago when I read that Greyhound was cutting bus line services and attempting to recover millions of dollars in losses caused by dwindling business and rising fuel costs.


Greyhound has been a poorly run service for a long time. Personal experiences attempting to travel by bus, and by relatives who used Greyhound, have been terrible. Yet if there was ever a time when America needs public transportation services like buses, trains and planes, it is now. Those rising fuel costs, unemployment and a financial crisis of gigantic proportions are prohibiting most other forms of travel across the country.


According to reports, Greyhound lost $111.5 million in 2002, and another $2.8.9 the following year. Greyhound customers had fallen off by 40 percent since 1980.


America’s love of the automobile, low-fare air costs and regional bus competition are blamed for the loss of customers. I think the problem goes much deeper. Greyhound did a very bad job of running its business.


In recent years, however, the company that was once headquartered in Texas has changed hands and is now a UK-owned operation. The change began in 1999 when Greyhound was bought by Laidlaw Inc. of Burlington, Ontario, which also acquired Greyhound Canada.


After heavy losses Laidlaw filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. This apparently led to the sale of the Greyhound empire to FirstGroup plc of the UK in 2007. This company has been working to improve the Greyhound image, investing in new buses and modern bus terminals and attempting to improve bus services to an on-demand basis.


The Greyhound rates have always been inviting. The fares have increased but you can still travel across the country on a bus for a very good price. And for many older baby boomers, who dislike driving long distances for reasons of age, income and health, the concept of leaving the driving to Greyhound should sound inviting.


It did for me a few years back. Shortly after going into an early (company incentive) retirement from one of the Gannett chain newspapers, I had an opportunity to go from Michigan to visit a daughter in Savannah, Georgia. I immediately considered Greyhound. At the time the bus line was offering travel anywhere in the United States for $90. And there was an express bus run from Detroit to Savannah.


The idea sounded good, so I drove to Saginaw, the nearest city near where I lived, and bought a ticket. The idea was that my wife could handle the traffic and get home easier from Saginaw than deal with the traffic snarl from downtown Detroit. The bus I was to board in Saginaw was expected to arrive in Detroit in time so I would have about an hour lay-over.


Fortunately, my wife waited at the bus station for me to leave. The bus was more than an hour late in arriving, and simple arithmetic told me that with numerous stops to make between Saginaw and Detroit, I would not arrive in time for the express bus. Since there was only one bus leaving each day from Detroit to Savannah, I was going to be forced to wait in that Detroit bus station for 24 hours to catch the next bus.


Anybody who has ever visited the old Detroit Greyhound terminal knows that is not a desirable place for an older white man to be after the sun goes down. The last time I was there in broad daylight I was accosted by drug dealers and pimps almost at the front door. The concept of building new terminals, hopefully in more desirable locations, will definitely help improve the company’s image and encourage more people to utilize the service.


When I went back to the counter and asked for my money back. The woman who sold me my bus ticket was not kind. She said I would have to send a receipt to Greyhound offices in Texas, and that a check would be issued. I sent the receipt, and the company never paid. They said the stub was invalid. In other words, either Greyhound, or that ticket agent, ripped me off.


That did not leave a good taste in my mouth. As a writer with a number of outlets, I wrote stories doing as much damage to Greyhound as possible in those days.


Needless to say, I flew to Savannah.


While I have negative thoughts about Greyhound, I have always thought that an extensive ground public transportation system for the United States is sorely needed. Airlines are becoming too costly and have always been major contributors to air pollution. But to make it work, there must be an extensive overhaul of the bus service and a rebuilding of the national railroads.


That requires federal dollars. If we had spent just a portion of the money the Bush Administration wasted on his insane push to start a world war and bring back Jesus, we could have been well on our way to having this kind of bus and train system. That President Obama has agreed to allow his generals to escalate our war in Afghanistan and continue pouring billions of dollars of borrowed money into our failed banking system is equally as disturbing. We are probably the only “developed” industrialized nation in the world that lacks a good public rail and bus transit system to help people get from place to place.


We need smooth new rails to carry high speed trains from coast to coast. We need terminals located in safe, well lighted places with lots of lighting and police protection for customers.


We need government subsidies so the seniors and the poor can travel within their means.


Instead, we are watching, almost uncaring, as Greyhound struggles on its own to attempt to serve public demands and show a profit. We tore up the old rusted railroad tracks, and sold the right-of-way for public bike trails, years ago.


Shame on us for our shortsightedness.