Consumer Travel Alliance and the Greyhound Bus solution

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Back in February, the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) received notification from Change.org that they were initiating a petition to protest the treatment of Greyhound bus passengers who had been forced to wait for a connecting bus in freezing Mid-West, mid-winter weather. It happened, fortunately, that CTA had a meeting scheduled with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood the following morning. The merger of Change.org’s petition with CTA’s contacts within DOT produced a move by Greyhound to guarantee that this would not happen again.

This was the basic story CTA heard as the Change.org petition was launching. They carried it directly to Sec. LaHood in a meeting with his chief of staff, personnel from the aviation enforcement division and Chief Counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We learned at that meeting that the division of DOT that would deal with this kind of problem would be the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Ankur Singh and about 10 other Greyhound bus passengers huddled outside a locked terminal at 4 a.m. in Des Moines, Iowa. The wind chill was -17 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 degrees Celsius), and their connection wouldn’t arrive for five hours.

Traveling from Minneapolis to Bloomington, Illinois, on Feb. 1, Singh, 18, had no idea he’d be waiting outside when he bought his ticket on Greyhound’s website. He assumed he’d sleep in a chair inside a lighted, heated station. Instead, he layered on clothes from his suitcase to stave off frostbite.

“Greyhound didn’t tell any of us we’d be outside,” Singh said.

Secretary LaHood listened to the story of the stranded passengers and asked his chief of staff to look into it and come up with a solution. Later, CTA followed up with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration via email.

Eventually, through machinations unknown to either CTA or Change.org, Greyhound issued a statement about a month after the CTA meeting with Sec. LaHood, that said it would ensure its terminals’ and agents’ hours correspond with scheduled arrivals and departures.

It was an action that the bus line took because of the confluence of media attention to an issue and the work of an advocacy group within the US government to come up with a solution.

There are still more questions that need to be addressed. CTA is looking into whether there should be passenger protections similar to airline passengers for all travelers using any mode of travel in the USA.

According to a story about this incident published by Bloomberg News

Bus transportation was the fastest-growing form of U.S. intercity travel last year, with scheduled departures up 7.5 percent, the most in four years, according to a January DePaul study. The study excluded so-called Chinatown lines that don’t publish regular schedules.

Between 1980 and 2006, the industry declined an average of 2.9 percent a year. Since then, it’s grown between 5.1 percent and 9.8 percent a year.”

With the national focus on air transportation, buses get scant attention. There is already a National Consumer Complaint Database. The complaint form for bus travelers who want to file grievances is at http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov/Default.aspx.

Even though these problems are spread across the country at out-of-the-way bus stops in rural areas, often, it seems, at city terminals where connections are poor and passenger facilities are minimal, these consumer travelers deserve to be treated with respect and decency.

The industry faces challenges making connections in rural America, where pickup points haven’t changed much in decades, Pantuso [chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Bus Association] said.

“With or without regulation, there’s an absolute need to take care of the customer,” Pantuso said. “We need to communicate and have a discussion among the carriers about what’s the best approach to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

  • TonyA_says

    Why only Greyhound? Many of the other bus lines (some co-owned by Greyhound) do not even use terminals. What control does Greyhound have over Jefferson Lines and Burlington Trailways who together run the terminal in question in Des Moines? Sounds like Greyhound is committing to nothing. Or, this might be another BS story coming out of Washington D.C.

  • LFH0

    I think there are many issues involved, but few people with political influence know much about what’s going on.

    Greyhound Lines has a small number of distinct brands and subsidiaries, including BoltBus, Americanos, Crucero, and Valley Transit Company, but by-and-large Greyhound Lines exercises control over these affiliates, their connection with Greyhound is not hidden, and all offer similar levels of service to Greyhound Lines. But there are many more independent lines, and the degree of control is pretty much limited to pressure from the company as to whether or not the company will interline (interlining is more important for bus service than for airlines since most airlines try to capture entire journeys, whereas many more bus itineraries necessarily require multiple carriers to complete an entire journey). And large companies, such as Jefferson Lines, are able to exercise significant independent discretion (Jefferson Lines has not been afraid to compete directly against Greyhound Lines–and vice versa–when there have been disputes . . . and usually Jefferson Lines has prevailed). Greyhound Lines is most in control when the interlining is with small companies who cannot survive absent a connection with Greyhound Lines, and in those cases Greyhound Lines is most capable of dictating to those small companies. See, e.g., Greyhound’s rural feeder program here: http://extranet.greyhound.com/Revsup/rfs

    Some of the big issues within the bus industry are the protections offered to air travelers which are absent to bus travelers. These issues include the following. Baggage liability is limited to $250. Baggage is not checked at the counter, and passengers must stay with all their luggage until boarding time, when they must carry all their baggage through the departure gate, and after having their ticket lifted, finally tender their baggage to the baggage handler standing at bus side. At connecting points no baggage is transferred; passengers must claim baggage, and keep it with them for the entire duration of the connection (no city sightseeing during that 8-hour connection!). Reservations are generally not taken, and passengers must physically stand on line (perhaps for hours) in order to secure a place on the next bus. If a bus is filled, passengers may have to wait for hours, and if a connecting bus only operates once daily, the passenger may be delayed for a day (or more). There is no denied boarding compensation. So-called “refundable” tickets in fact have a 20 percent cancellation penalty. Few stations anymore have restaurants, and those that do are generally limited to hot dogs and sandwiches; highway meal stops are generally fast food, with nutritious food not being an option. Some stations employ security measures, but such measures are inconsistent and not subject to any uniform government or company standards.

    Greyhound Lines is not really making any commitment, and it need not do so on its own since (with the possible exception of its BoltBus brand) it has accepted the proposition that it no longer caters to choice passengers, and the captive passengers it carries have no choice but to keep coming back for more abuse.

    Is government intervention required? Well, there is open entry and exit, so if any other bus company saw an opportunity to provide superior service it could do so. But the market is thin, and the perception of Greyhound Lines that there are few choice riders–and the captive riders are more influenced by price than by service–is probably true. So no one is getting into the business with superior service, other than in niche markets (primarily in the northeastern United States) where people of means do ride buses. Minimal standards based on criteria of such things as humane treatment and prevention of fraud probably deserve government protection. But beyond that? Seeing both sides, I’m not so sure.