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Published: 8/10/2005

Greyhound leaves the driving to us

BY DAVID PATCH AND JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Anna Clark and Ashley Bateson, say good-bye to JoyAnn Powell, who is taking the nationwide bus service to Asheville, N.C. Anna Clark and Ashley Bateson, say good-bye to JoyAnn Powell, who is taking the nationwide bus service to Asheville, N.C.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN - JoyAnn Powell baked in the afternoon sun for more than two hours yesterday waiting to catch a Greyhound bus to go see her sister in Asheville, N.C.

The bus was about 45 minutes late for its stop on East Wooster Street, but to her, the wait was worth it.

The 53-year-old Bowling Green woman doesn't drive and has relied on Greyhound for more than 30 years. Word that Greyhound will be yanking its local stop a week from today upset her.

"When I come back, I have to come back to Toledo," she said. "I like to ride the bus a lot better than I like cars. I've went out of this bus station for 30 or 32 years. I've went out of here and come back here, and I was very disappointed they were going to close."

When that last Greyhound bus pulls out of town, the Wood County seat will join hundreds of cities across the United States that have lost their places on the sole nationwide bus system's route map.

The 1,700 passengers who got on or off the buses in Bowling Green last year will have to find another way to go, if they haven't already.

"In the past year, we have closed about 750 stops," said Anna Folmnsbee, a spokesman at Greyhound headquarters in Dallas. "The vast majority of those have been stops that cost more to operate than the revenue they bring in."

Three others in the Toledo area - Defiance, Maumee, and Monroe - quietly disappeared from the Greyhound network on June 21, as did 14 stations elsewhere in Ohio.

Of those, the busiest was Monroe, where 400 passengers boarded and 652 disembarked last year - on average, fewer than two on and two off per day. At Napoleon, last year's counts were 85 on and 180 off, meaning that on many days, there were no local passengers at all.

Bowling Green's business amounted to about five passengers a day, on or off.

Greyhound began dropping stations and routes last August, when it announced plans to withdraw from 260 cities in 13 states from Illinois west. It withdrew entirely from the Dakotas and from all of Nebraska except Omaha, and it dropped local stops in many cities along the West Coast.

The cuts followed three consecutive years of multimillion dollar losses for Greyhound, which Ms. Folmnsbee said was doubly hammered by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks even though no buses were involved. People curtailed their travel at the same time the bus line had to increase its security measures and pay higher insurance premiums, she said.

In an attempt to regain profitability, the spokesman said, Greyhound is focusing its resources on its largest bloc of passengers - those who travel between major cities up to 450 miles apart. Rider surveys have shown that they are more likely to take the bus if it is fast and convenient, she said.

"We're in the middle of restructuring our entire route network," Ms. Folmnsbee said. The cuts are being made in phases, with those along the eastern seaboard's I-95 corridor to come next, she said.

Nina Oberkirsch of Bowling Green, another regular Greyhound passenger, was upset to hear the local service was ending because while she drives locally, she prefers the bus for longer trips.

"It's more economical than trying to put gas in a vehicle if you're going to take an extended trip and you don't have the wear and tear on yourself," Ms. Oberkirsch said. "It's just much more economical than flying."

Mayor John Quinn said he knows Greyhound has a limited number of people using the bus on trips to and from Bowling Green, yet he knows how important that service is to those people.

"My concern is they don't have a lot of riders, but the riders they do have depend on them," he said. "That's the biggest concern - and the fact we are a university community."

Gary Lee, chairman of the sociology department at Bowling Green State University, had similar thoughts.

"For smaller towns losing their bus service, it's not a big thing for most of the people," he said. "But there are certain segments of the population who are going to be seriously inconvenienced - either they have no personal vehicle, or theirs is too unreliable to use for a long trip."

The problem, Mr. Lee said, is that in a competitive, for-profit environment, there aren't enough bus-dependent travelers in small towns to justify maintaining the service.

Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, acknowledged that "hundreds, if not thousands" of communities have lost bus service in recent decades. But there are still "thousands upon thousands" that have access to the national network, if not by Greyhound then by a smaller, regional bus line that has picked up local service where Greyhound pulled out and offer connections at major cities.

So far, Greyhound's changes haven't meant any route cuts for Toledo. The bus that goes to Fort Wayne, Ind., now does so as an express instead of stopping along the way, and Detroit service is nonstop now too. South of Cleveland, however, Greyhound will discontinue its route along I-77 to Charleston, W.Va., on Aug. 17, with all passengers rerouted via Columbus. Marietta, Ohio, is also losing service.

Ms. Folmnsbee said the closing of the Bowling Green station was not part of Greyhound's original plan. But when Bill Burkle, the local Greyhound agent who operated the station in conjunction with his business, Andy's Hot Dogs, told the bus line he wanted out, Greyhound chose not to seek a new Bowling Green location.

Mr. Burkle, who became Bowling Green's Greyhound agent about seven years ago, estimated that college students accounted for at least half his ticket sales.

But Professor Lee said in recent years, even the college market has dwindled as more and more students have their own cars, carpool with others who do or rely on their parents for transportation.

And Kathy Punches, a spokesman at Defiance College, said while "over the years, we have had out-of-state students who used the buses," she was not aware of any affected by Greyhound's decision to drop the Defiance stop.

In fact, she had not been aware that the stop had been dropped until asked about it.

"It's very unfortunate for our students to no longer have that option, even if they only need it in an emergency," she said.

And as much as Mayor Quinn said he hates to see his city lose its Greyhound stop, he's not surprised since the same thing happened 50 years ago with trains.

"We are really a nation that depends on our passenger cars," the retired history teacher said. "Right after World War II, people started to buy their own cars and people started to fly on planes, and they gave up passenger trains."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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