Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bus Travelers Bitten By Greyhound

When I made my reservations with Greyhound three days in advance, I thought that my wife and I had secure seats coming and going. I have shopped in supermarkets and bookstores that could give you a minute to minute inventory on what was in stock. When I saw the bar code on our Greyhound Bus tickets, I thought it was a part of some control system for allocating seats. I was dead wrong.

Going to Pittsburgh from the Port Authority was fine, aside from an almost complete lack of signs directing us. I must concede that all the buses run by Greyhound were clean. Drivers were polite and helpful.

It was coming back from Pittsburgh that our trip fell apart. When we were waiting to board the bus back to New York, an authoritative sounding driver asked passengers bound for New York to raise their hands. My wife and I raised our hands for ourselves and for two of our children who were traveling with us. Our direct bus to New York melted away. We were sent to a bus going to Baltimore.

"Don't worry." The driver assured us. "You'll arrive in New York a half hour earlier than you would have if you had gone direct."

We got on the bus, which had weak but passable air conditioning. There were numerous local stops. We arrived in Baltimore with minutes to spare to catch our bus to New York at 2:45 PM.
The driver told us the bus was full, and that the next bus would leave at 5:30.

My next stop was at the information and ticket sales desk. Even though I already had our tickets, I had to wait behind a slow moving line of people who were buying tickets. I asked if a partial refund was possible, since my sons were staying in Baltimore after all. I was told that tickets are non refundable. I was also told that the only way to get to New York was to wait until 5:30 for the next bus, that there would be no backup bus. I was very dismayed and said, "With this kind of service, I will think twice before traveling with Greyhound again." When I walked away, the lady called out, "Don't think too much." There was not a word of apology for the inconvenience.

At around four o'clock, a bus was announced that was departing for New York City. I quickly folded my newspaper, gathered our bags together and ran to catch the bus. The bus was a Carolina Trailways. The driver did his best to make us comfortable, despite the fact that the air conditioning was broken. He was very apologetic and opened overhead windows so no one would get sick from the heat. He informed us that he would be taking the bus out of service in Philly and putting us on a New York bound bus there. I thanked him for taking good care of us under trying circumstances. We left Philly a little after 6:00 PM. This time, we had air conditioning.

The last bus ride was uneventful. The air conditioning worked. The bus was clean. Our direct route from Pittsburgh ended up having two impromptu transfers. It was clear that despite the detailed itineraries on our tickets, that there was no system of reserving seats. Drivers were polite, although a backup bus should have been ordered in Pittsburgh instead of shoehorning us into buses that were obviously overbooked. The Carolina Trailways driver was classy and considerate. Even if his bus had defective air conditioning, he really worked to keep us comfortable.

Baltimore's main bus station's sole saving grace was outlets for recharging cell phones. Although the station was spotless, the food in vending machines was a poor selection of overpriced junk food. The station could use some restaurants and concession stands. The customer service in Baltimore was the worst. The people at the ticket sales and information desk were indifferent to the discomfort of their customers. I would guess that they were probably accustomed to a steady stream of customers who had experiences similar to mine.

In the future, I will explore other ways to travel before I go by Greyhound Bus. I probably could have gotten bargain airplane tickets or a car rental. Even paying a few dollars more is worth avoiding the aggravation. With all of the concern about the environment, it would be wise to upgrade the awful service that is routine at Greyhound Bus Lines. Unfortunately, most of the people who go on Greyhound Bus Lines tend to be working class people without a lot of economic clout. People like that are easy to shoehorn into overbooked and at times poorly maintained buses.

I have gone many times on Greyhound Bus Lines over the years. I have good memories of good service in years past. On this trip, the quality of service took a nose dive. What a pity.

No comments: