Bus chaos causes travel nightmare

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Scenes from the new Greyhound bus stop at the Marathon gas station on Cherry Street. Photos by Keith Richardson.

The Greyhound Bus Station by the Old City didn’t top anyone’s list of Knoxville’s best attractions, but as of last week hundreds of people were nonetheless mourning the landmark’s demise. 

In fact, a steady stream of men, women and children found themselves missing the stale snacks once sold by the vending machines, the ergonomically challenged furniture, and even the antediluvian plumbing. At least having those things had meant they were indoors, after all — out of the rain and the wind. 

But even the most primitive of creature comforts were stripped last week from the riders of the Greyhound Corporation’s fleet of coast-to-coast buses who needed to board, exit or switch in Knoxville.

The company abruptly shut down its 62-year-old terminal at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Central Street, then notified customers that its new Knoxville bus stop was in the parking lot of a convenience store located just off the Cherry Street exit of Interstate 40.

The Marathon gas station at the new location has no public restrooms, chairs or benches, or safety lighting. After business hours (when most of the bus traffic is scheduled) the store is locked and Greyhound customers can’t even buy a soda.

Yvonne Forsythe-Neubert, a former gubernatorial candidate who cannot drive herself because she’s blind, lashed out bitterly after she was forced to wait for hours in the lot last week.

“There’s no way for me to be safe,” she said. “They’ve taken away my independence. This situation is unacceptable.”

She explained that her inability to drive has meant relying on Greyhound at least six times a year, whenever she leaves the state to see her grandchildren or just to travel.  

“We’re a hub, we’ve got buses from Knoxville heading in each of the four directions,” she said. “When someone approaches me, I can’t tell if it’s a driver or someone coming to steal my suitcase. If someone approaches me, the first and only option I have is to scream and call 911. Someone is going to get killed. If it’s raining, the people have nowhere to go, and Greyhound just doesn’t care.”

She paused, then added: “It boggles the mind. Well, no it doesn’t— I’m sure it’s a money thing.”

For generations, Greyhound has embedded itself in American life and earned its reputation as the nation’s go-to long distance travel option for those on a budget or averse to flying. Even as airlines gained larger and larger shares of the market, Greyhound remained the only affordable choice for millions of travelers. 

The Knoxville station had seen countless arrivals and departures since it was built in 1960. In fact, it was such a fixture that it came as something of shock to many when the 16,000-square-foot building went on sale in 2020. Then, last year, the Greyhound corporation itself was sold to a German-based firm and the Knoxville property was sold for $1.45 million to local developers a few months later. 

The old Greyhound station by the Old City. Source: Knox Heritage

While Greyhound never promised to replace the old station with a new one, many observers expected a company with such a long-standing presence in Knoxville to work with local officials to come up with a better solution than an inner city parking lot notorious for drug sales.

One obviously solution would be to let the company use the City’s downtown Transit Center. The relatively modern facility was built for buses and would be a tremendous improvement over the gas station on Cherry Street. 

But Stephanie Welch, the City’s chief economic and community development officer, explained that Greyhound’s status as a private company means there are limited options for local government to explore.

“Other than land use and the use of public streets, we do not have regulatory authority related to their operations,” Welch said.

According to Welch, Greyhound has spoken with the City in the past but the company didn’t give any forewarning of the sudden change in operations. 

“In 2020, Greyhound reached out to us to discuss options regarding their future operations. The transit center was discussed, and at that time Greyhound was also exploring other relocation options,” said Welch.

“As of the current situation—we were not aware of Greyhound’s plans. However, we have been in contact with Greyhound this week and we are talking with them about other options for their pick up and drop off location,” she said.

Greyhound officials have so far limited their public statements to a single email from Crystal Booker, a company spokesperson, dated April 20: 

“Greyhound stops at a range of locations across its extensive network. Similar to the rest of the intercity bus industry, some of these stops include convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants. While Greyhound was not the owner of its previous location, we did a thorough review of our business in Knoxville and decided to transition to the aforementioned industry-wide model so that we could continue to provide this essential service to this community. 

“The new stop is a self-service location with ticket purchases available on Greyhound.com, through Greyhound’s mobile app, or by dialing 1-800-231-2222.

“Greyhound customers interested in paying with cash can purchase tickets online and pay with cash at over 32,000 retailers nationwide. For more information on that process, please visit here.  

“We have no further information at this time.”

In the meantime, local volunteers from Knoxville Immigrant Transit Assistance (KITA) have refocused their efforts toward helping all Greyhound passengers. Their group normally provides food, blankets, and other types of assistance to asylum seekers who are traveling by bus.

“We have been monitoring the new location and sending out volunteers in cycles to make sure there’s coverage when buses arrive,” said KITA volunteer Keith Richardson.

“Greyhound had plenty of time to plan for a better transition, and they didn’t do anything to make sure of that,” he said.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on April 25, 2022.