Gas station nixes agreement with Greyhound

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Greyhound passengers, many of whom have waited for hours or days in the Marathon station parking lot on Cherry Street, look for their bus to come in during a Sunday evening cloudburst. (Photo by Hard Knox Wire)

An East Knoxville gas station that has served as the local Greyhound bus stop since the iconic transit line closed its downtown terminal in April has decided to terminate its agreement with the company. 

As of the beginning of October, Greyhound buses will no longer be able to pick up or drop off passengers in the parking lot of the Marathon station on Cherry Street, according to Marathon employees.

“I’m just relieved,” said station manager Barbara Hampton. “This is not a safe place. The bus riders don’t have any shelter here …I hope Greyhound tries to find them a safe, nice shelter.”

The announcement was the first sign of movement in what has often appeared to be a months-long stalemate between the bus line and local critics of the company.  

Since Greyhound opted to close its decades-old terminal on Magnolia Avenue in April, its customers — including children, elderly persons and the handicapped — have found themselves having to wait for their buses in a parking lot with no benches or chairs. The only shelter is beneath the same awning that covers the gas pumps, and the only toilet facilities are a pair of porta potties that are padlocked for much of the day, officials say. 

Customers have found themselves stranded for hours or days when their buses arrive late or not at all. While some people have been able to stay in motel rooms paid for by Greyhound, others have been forced to camp out in the parking lot. Small groups of volunteers have been providing various types of assistance and trying to put pressure on local government officials to take an active role in the situation, which they describe as a small-scale humanitarian crisis.

It’s unknown what Greyhound officials think of the situation in Knoxville or why there have been so many apparent problems with scheduling. The company hasn’t responded to recent emails and phone calls seeking comment. 

According to Hampton, Greyhound customers have been forced to relieve themselves in the parking lot because the ports potties aren’t kept open around-the-clock. 

“This is very unstable,” she said. “They leave people outside for days at a time. This really is not a safe area, especially for children… I’ve had a Greyhound customer stuck here for two days because they canceled his bus and didn’t let him know it was canceled.”

City of Knoxville officials have been in talks with the company for several months. Among the solutions being discussed is converting the downtown Transit Center that was built for the City’s bus line, KAT, into a facility handling both KAT and Greyhound buses.  So far, however, the talks haven’t yielded results, and officials have stressed that the City’s legal authority to intervene in the policies of a private company are limited.

When asked Friday about the situation, City spokesperson Kristin Farley said the latest development had come as a surprise.

“We were not notified ahead of time of Marathon’s decision to discontinue its contract with Greyhound,” Farley said. 

“I can tell you that we are still continuing to discuss with Greyhound options to support their operations, but we do not have any major developments to announce at this time,” she said.

Ann Jefferson, one of several Knox area residents who have volunteered to help bring relief to stranded riders over the past few months, said Sunday that Marathon ending its agreement with Greyhound will hopefully be a catalyst that brings about a permanent solution.

“It brings an unacceptable situation up to the surface where more people can see it,” Jefferson said. “Even if Greyhound takes the step of canceling all service to Knoxville, at least that will mean it’s impossible for people to be stranded halfway through their trip or get to the bus stop hours ahead of when their bus comes in.”

Jefferson, who has repeatedly urged City officials to intervene in the situation, continued that line of argument Sunday. 

“If the City leaders had an ounce of compassion, they would at least go to the Marathon station before the contract is terminated in October and talk with these travelers to see how Greyhound’s policies are affecting them,” she said. “And then they would do something to make it easier for Greyhound to find an appropriate spot. Or look for investors to start a better bus system for Tennesseans and people passing through Tennessee.”

NOTE: In the initial version of this story, we misspelled Ann Jefferson’s name. The error has been corrected.

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

Published on August 22, 2022.