Waiting for Greyhound
*Editor’s note: The name Lanesha Gipson was misspelled in the print version of this story. It has been corrected online.
Like waiting for Samuel Beckett’s Godot, it’s an exercise in absurdity, crushed optimism and existential despair.
“That’s some bullshit,” said the young man in the Knicks cap when I told him Greyhound’s real-time GPS tracker indicated that the bus that should have arrived in Durham over an hour ago was still in Raleigh. “Damn Greyhound is always late.”
He told me that his name was Deshaun Locklear and that he was going to Charlotte to see his girlfriend. Like me, he’d shown up at the Durham station wondering just how late bus #1083, scheduled to arrive at 10:20 p.m., was going to be this time.
Now it was after midnight the station was closing and the bus still hadn’t come. The icon on the map at bustracker.greyhound.com showed the bus still at the Raleigh station, arrival and departure times listed as “currently unavailable.” The Greyhound ticket agent left at 11 p.m. with no announcement about when that bus might actually arrive in Durham.
Locklear and I waited outside along with four other men. Three Durham police officers hung around for a few minutes after the station closed. Locklear asked one how many evenings he’d seen Greyhound be late. “Never seen one that wasn’t,” said the officer.
At 1:15 a.m. on July 21, the online tracker listed Greyhound #1083’s status as “currently unavailable.” I called Uber and told Locklear he was welcome to share the ride at no charge. But he and the other stranded passengers were bound for Charlotte or Atlanta, and none wanted to pay Uber to go from Greensboro to their various destinations. I was glad they were all adult but not elderly men, left alone outside a closed and dark bus station in downtown Durham.
Later, as my Uber driver turned on to Fulton Street from Gate City Boulevard, I wondered if anyone was waiting at the Washington Street Depot after 2 a.m. for the bus should have been there three hours ago. That’s when I decided to monitor all the Greyhounds arriving in the Triad, and see how many were even close to being on time. Was it really true that Greyhound was always late?
Not always, but pretty often.
From July 21 until July 27, I logged each of the 12 buses that serve the Greensboro and Winston-Salem stations, checking their daily arrivals and departures via bustracker.greyhound.com. On both July 21 and July 22, six of those 12 buses were at least 45 minutes late, and three were over two hours late. Bus #1086, running from Atlanta to New York and scheduled to arrive in Greensboro at 2 a.m., was the most consistently delayed over the entire week, arriving at least 20 minutes late on six out of seven days, and over four hours late on July 23.
Bus # 1081, New York to Atlanta, scheduled to arrive at 7:55 a.m. in Greensboro, was another repeat offender. It was at least 30 minutes late on four of those seven days, over an hour late on three, and over two hours late on two. On July 27, it was listed as “Cancelled” at both its origin in New York City and its first stop in Richmond. Bus #1083, the late one from Durham I’d been trying to catch on July 20, was almost as bad. It was over two hours late the next two nights, and an hour and 55 minutes late on July 24. Checking the tracker before submitting this article on Tuesday morning, I saw it was listed as “Cancelled” the previous night in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte.
The longest single delay was experienced by bus #1096, Jacksonville to Detroit, on July 23. Although on-time at 4 p.m. in Winston, it remained there for six hours rather than departing as scheduled. The bus running the other way, #1093, Detroit to Jacksonville, suffered nearly as extreme a delay on July 24, arriving in Winston-Salem at 6:10 p.m. rather than its scheduled 1:15 p.m.
I visited the Greensboro bus station on the evening of July 22 and talked to passengers. Lester Gaylor, who said he was from of Kingston told me that he rode Greyhound at least 10 times a year, and it was late “each and every time.”
He described his worst experience as a trip back home to Kingston from Atlanta, on which the bus was four hours late. He claimed that no effort was made to mollify the disgruntled passengers waiting to leave the Atlanta station. “You’d go up to the desk and ask what time the bus is leaving, and they’d say [in a snippy voice] ‘my supervisor hasn’t gotten back to me yet.’ And then they’ll just try to ignore you.”
Dietrich Jordan, whom I talked to outside the Greensboro bus station an hour later that Sunday, also had some complaints. He said that his return from Charlotte was delayed by construction in Kannapolis, but that experience wasn’t as bad the trip there from Greensboro a few days before. “The bus had broke down in Durham before it got to Greensboro. They put all the people from that bus on another bus, which filled it up, and all of us who were waiting for that bus here had to keep waiting for the next one.”
But what happens when the next bus is many hours away? A glance at Greyhound BusTracker suggested that there were going to be some disgruntled people later that evening. Bus #1082, Atlanta to New York, was running four hours late, and unlikely to arrive in Greensboro at 9 p.m. as scheduled.
At 11:15 p.m. that evening, I found Michelle Ide and David Blankenship still waiting for it outside of the closed Greyhound waiting room. They said they’d driven from Thomasville to catch it to New York, the first leg of an intended journey to Wilkesboro, Pennsylvania.
Ide said that they’d been told to wait outside on the platform at 11 p.m. because the building was closing for the night. “I’m supposed to arrive in [Pennsylvania] at 2:15 tomorrow afternoon and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
They said that the station agent had told them their bus should arrive by midnight and looked dismayed when I said that BusTracker showed it as expected in Greensboro at 1:17 a.m. They said they were resolved to wait, but were distinctly unhappy about having to do so outside a closed and empty station. “You’d think they’d let us at least go around front and wait in the train station waiting room, as it’s open 24 hours, but no, you’ve got to have a train ticket to do that.”
A week later, I found David Russell waiting on the same bench. It was 8:25 p.m. on July 29, and Russell told me that he was waiting for bus #1076 to Raleigh, scheduled to have arrived at 7 p.m. He said the station agent told him it would arrive around 9 p.m. (it actually arrived at 9:27 p.m.). He said that he’d never used Greyhound before in his life, and never would again.
“So far, it doesn’t look like I’ll miss my flight out of Raleigh, but it’s still very inconvenient. I’ll get there too late to take a local bus to the airport. At that point, it’s actually cheaper to take an Uber from here in Greensboro right to the Raleigh airport. That’s only $60, but this is going to cost me over $70. Greyhound isn’t really the cheapest form of transportation if it can’t get there on time.”
Most Greyhound passengers don’t have the Uber option. For adjacent cities, services such as PART are cheaper and Amtrak is comparable. But for longer trips, Greyhound remains the most affordable choice for those who struggle to pay their bills every month, and that’s the increasing majority of Americans.
This article hasn’t really touched on Greyhound’s other customer service issues, particularly the sheer difficulty of reaching anyone who can address complaints. I spent 40 minutes on the phone Saturday trying to get my ticket refunded for the July 21 trip. After putting me on two lengthy holds, the agent said he couldn’t help me at the present time, as he was unable to find any records relating to that schedule on that night, and told me to call back on Monday.
When I tried to reach Greyhound’s media liaison on Monday, the website wasn’t loading. When I called Greyhound Customer Service, the agent repeatedly tried to give me, not the number for Greyhound Media Relations, but the very one I had called him at. When I said “that’s your number,” he said, “oh, maybe it’s transferring to this one because the media number is busy.”
I eventually obtained the number of Lanesha Gipson at Greyhound Media Relations by calling the manager of a North Carolina station, who begged me not to include their name. Gipson’s voicemail listed a cell number to call if it was after business hours or if the media inquiry had a tight deadline, and when I called that one, she answered. After listening patiently to my description of this article and taking my email and phone number, she said she would get back to me with a statement by 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, but did not do so.
That lack of response suggests that a local article is unlikely to do much toward improving a national company’s customer service. But perhaps this will help persuade the people who maintain the Greensboro and Winston-Salem bus stations served by that company to have better facilities for those Triad travelers left stranded in the dark.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.
Author’s postscript: This statement from Lanesha Gipson, Senior Communications Specialist at Greyhound, arrived after our publication deadline. It is reproduced in its entirety below.
“Per your inquiry regarding delays at the Greensboro, NC station-
I can confirm that we do experience delays at times on schedules that arrive at the Greensboro station. However, we’re working diligently to accommodate the increase in customer demand with the limited resources we have available, and expect to have this matter rectified soon. With resources as tight as they have been, any delay that occurs elsewhere can create a domino effect. Also, if a driver is ill or feels as though they cannot operate the bus safely for any reason, they are encouraged to book-off, as the safety of our customers is the cornerstone of our business. We are actively hiring drivers in order to meet the increasing demand for our service so these types of delays are minimized.”