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Americans Already Finding Alternatives to Greyhound

June 6, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Train ridership is up, small bus companies are picking up more passengers and Lera Dwyer’s van service is keeping two dozen Texas towns linked to the big city.

As Greyhound Lines Inc. tries to reorganize its finances under bankruptcy laws while pledging to continue most service with replacements for striking drivers, many travelers already are finding ways to cope without America’s only nationwide bus system.

They may be paying more, waiting longer for connections and resorting to other transportation modes, but few have complained to Washington since 6,300 Greyhound drivers walked out March 2 in a pay and job security dispute.

″I haven’t received a single call from any legislator, mayor, governor or anyone complaining about a lack of service because of the Greyhound strike,″ said Wayne J. Smith, executive director of the United Bus Operators of America.

″If there really is such a lack of service out there, I’m sure we would have heard from somebody,″ said Smith, whose group represents many of the nation’s more than 2,000 independent bus companies.

In urban America, regional carriers are filling in where the scaled-down Greyhound has cut service, Smith said. In rural America, he said, people are relying more on the automobile or finding other alternatives.

Mrs. Dwyer, who owns Skylark Transportation in Wichita Falls, Texas, said the size of her little line has quadrupled since the Greyhound strike, with 10 small vans making daily round trips to Paris, Texarkana, Abilene and other communities abandoned by Greyhound.

Her drivers pick up vital farm machinery parts, fresh produce that has to arrive overnight, thread to keep a clothing plant running, valuable bull semen and perhaps a dozen passengers over loops of 170 miles or so.

With connections to Greyhound in Wichita Falls, trips that used to take a couple of hours can take six or more, but Mrs. Dwyer said she carries people to visit relatives and doctors they otherwise couldn’t see.

″When Greyhound stopped, the buses were able to keep running on the freeways, but some of the little communities were without bus service,″ she said by telephone Tuesday. ″And I’ve always been service-oriented.″

″It would be a great blow if we lost Greyhound everywhere,″ Mrs. Dwyer said. ″An awful lot of people who cannot or would not fly, I don’t know how they would get around.″

Amtrak officials are reluctant to credit the Greyhound strike with huge increases in passengers, but spokesman Clifford Black said, ″We have gathered some Greyhound refugees and made them our own.″

Overall, ridership on the national passenger railroad was up three percent over the previous year in the month before the strike. In March, it rose seven percent, and in the April figures released Tuesday, it was up 12 percent.

The new figures showed Amtrak ridership up 35 percent between Detroit and Chicago; 43 percent between Chicago and Carbondale, Ill.; 29 percent between Chicago and St. Louis; and 43 percent on the Chicago-Cincinnati-Washingt on- New York route.

Black said Amtrak personnel report that some passengers say they used to take the bus but will now keep riding the train even if Greyhound resumes full service.

Several small bus companies report increased ridership, although some say they are suffering along with Greyhound, partly because of the violence that has tarnished the image of bus travel. Greyhound and police have reported more than 30 shooting incidents involving buses or terminals since the strike began.

″We were getting a fair share of the traveling public before the strike,″ said Phil McBride of Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield, Mass. ″Now we’re getting the lion’s share.″

Jim Harmon, operations manager of Cascade Trailways in Tacoma, Wash., said his company, which has daily runs to Sacramento, Calif., used some of its tour buses to serve Greyhound routes in the early days of the strike.

″We backed out when they came back, because the market couldn’t support two of us,″ he said. But if Greyhound falls, Cascade is ready to run buses to every town Greyhound serves in Washington, he said.

If Greyhound collapses, the country likely still have nationwide bus service but it won’t be handled by a single carrier, Harmon said.

He said small bus lines, including the 30 Trailways carriers that remained independent after the merger of Trailways Lines Inc. and Greyhound in 1987, could hook up to form a nationwide system.

″It would require a lot of coordination with tickets, but it could be done,″ Harmon said.

John Sims, a Washington lawyer who has represented bus companies for 40 years, is less optimistic about the future of cross-country bus travel.

″If Greyhound goes down, it probably will be virtually impossible to go from coast to coast by bus,″ he said.

″It makes me wonder whether the person who cannot afford anything other than the bus is the really being represented in this fiasco.″

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