At about 2:30 Monday afternoon, temperatures hovered around 99 with the heat index, and a young couple traveling to New Orleans via Greyhound sat with their bags on a short brick wall in the parking lot near the bus stop entrance and the Music Resource Center on Ridge Street.
A friend had driven them from Harrisonburg nearly two hours earlier, and the couple was flabbergasted and disappointed to find that the Greyhound station was closed, and their only relief from the sun and the heat was shade from the trees growing on the other side of the wall.
How were they supposed to label their bags with no tags? Knowing they had time before their bus arrived, they walked down the street to the Food Master convenience store a little bit down the road to get something to eat and drink.
Between lamentations, they laughed tiredly at the situation (they were at the start of their trip after all), shaking their heads and eventually making conversation with other passengers who stepped off their buses and, upon looking unsuccessfully for a bus station entrance and finding nothing but closed doors, a fenced off entrance, and cigarette butts and takeout containers quashing the weeds poking up through cracks in the concrete, joined the couple in the sliver of shade.
Charlottesville’s Greyhound bus station is now a bus stop.
There’s even a small blue and white sign on a lamppost indicating as much. “BUS STOP,” it reads.
Charlottesville Tomorrow chatted with a Greyhound customer service agent via the Greyhound website to ask what was going on with the Charlottesville bus station, and the agent explained that the station is now a stop. When we asked why, the agent pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that some of their stations have been and are still closed for that reason.
But the closure seems permanent. Both the Greyhound entrance on Ridge Street and the exit on West Main are fenced off. The doors to the building are locked, and it’s clear that the property hasn’t been kept up in a while. And it’s for sale.
According to the city GIS system, accessed on June 28, the property (302-304 and 316 W. Main St.) is owned by GLI Acquisition Co., based in Indianapolis. The company has been affiliated with Greyhound for decades, according to various New York Times and Washington Post articles about the late-1980s merger of Greyhound and Trailways, the two largest bus companies in America.
The bus station’s sudden transformation into a bus stop is more than an inconvenience for passengers and bus drivers. It’s dangerous, especially in extreme heat and cold, during rain, snow, lightning, hail, etc. In an emergency, folks could congregate at the bottom of the parking lot, away from the street and under the overhang of the old station — at least until the building/property is sold. But overhead shelter isn’t always sufficient protection from the elements.
Plus, the buses drop off and pick up on Ridge Street, which bottlenecks from two lanes to one just yards from a “don’t block the box” area in front of a fire station.
Traveling via bus is much cheaper (but usually more difficult) than train or plane, and for that reason, it’s how many folks throughout the U.S. who are either poor or low-income, are able to travel. Greyhound runs the vast majority of those routes (it’s affiliated with BoltBus, too), and the company took a huge hit during the pandemic, raising concerns about the future of North American bus travel. It permanently ceased service in Canada just a couple months ago.
A local man walking down Ridge Street on Monday afternoon seemed to notice the new bus stop sign, and he stopped to ask the young couple if they were really waiting for the Greyhound. Yes, they confirmed as he took a handkerchief from his pocket, lifted up his blue baseball cap, and mopped the top of his bald head. He wants to go visit his grandchildren, he said, but can he get a ticket now?
Yes, the young couple explained, but he had to do it online. “Good thing I didn’t expect to print my ticket at the kiosk,” said one half of the couple, who explained that he instead had his ticket on his phone, and the bus driver could scan it.
The man asked a few more questions before going on his way, his brow furrowed under his blue cap.
If passengers must purchase tickets online, that means folks who don’t have internet or device access, or those who must pay in cash, can’t get their ticket to ride.
Another passenger was glad he’d printed out his ticket: His phone ran out of battery about 30 minutes into his parking lot wait, and he wouldn’t have been able to show a digital ticket to the driver. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he kept saying, shaking his head. He couldn’t believe he was just dropped off on the sidewalk to wait over an hour for another bus, and he worried about the heat.
A passenger who boarded in Dallas, Texas, had been on the road for more than 24 hours, and had to transfer to a bus bound for Washington, D.C. Unable to freshen up in a bathroom, he brushed his teeth in the parking lot with a bottle of water from the nearby Food Master. He said that a couple other stations they’d passed on the more than 1,200-mile trip were also closed. He understood that they could be closed due to the pandemic, and he appreciated the safety, but he wished Greyhound had let him know to bring sufficient food and water along with him.
Just one of the dozen or so passengers Charlottesville Tomorrow spoke with at the stop was local. Everyone else was in Charlottesville just to transfer buses (and yes, one did ask with a certain amount of concern if it was “that Charlottesville”). They were all unfamiliar with the area, totally unsure of where they could get food, water or use a bathroom. They worried that venturing too far from the stop might mean missing their buses.
A concerned employee from an adjacent business said that they first noticed people gathering at the stop last week, and it’s been terrible to watch folks stand outside in the heat, stressing about whether they’re in the right place, where they can use a bathroom or get some food, where they’d stay if their bus didn’t show up on time or at all.
One passenger, who is legally blind, asked Charlottesville Tomorrow for help reading the tiny text on his printed ticket — he was afraid that without any audible announcements like those typically made at bus stations, he’d end up on the wrong bus, heading back toward Wytheville in Southwest Virginia, instead of to his Baltimore destination. Next time, he said, he hoped to afford the train…but he’d still have to get from Wytheville to the nearest train station, more than 50 miles away in Hinton, West Virginia.
When their buses finally arrived, after nearly a four-hour wait for some, over an hour for others, passengers were understandably irritated and relieved.
“Finally,” said the passenger who’d brushed his teeth in the parking lot.
“I still can’t believe they dropped us off to wait on the damn sidewalk,” said another after putting out a cigarette and picking up his bags before heading for the bus door. “The sidewalk. In this heat. Unreal.”