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Busing It Greyhound Style: A Bygone Era?

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The city of Ventura has been taken off the map. Specifically, the Greyhound Bus Line service map. This week the company shut down the station in Ventura, and wiped it off their route, to the surprise of many who had been hoping to hop a bus out of town. So is busing it a relic of a bygone era?

One possible reason behind the elimination of the stop is "Greyhound’s owners are trimming costs," according to the Ventura County Reporter. Shares have dropped just under $5 in the past ten weeks, signaling perhaps a downturn in public support of buses as a mode of long-distance travel.

Using their site's fare calculator, a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Seattle runs $118-$158, and a one-way flight on Alaska Airlines from LAX to Sea-Tac $264-$308 for the same day and time. Of course, the flight will take you 2hr 40 mins, the bus ride 1day, 1hr 45m. Yikes! If we abide by the cliche that time is money, the comparison proves the adage true.

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Who rides Greyhound and other long-distance bus lines? Well, there's Adrian Lamo, the "homeless hacker"who hops the buses endlessly when he's not infiltrating major US computer networks, or Dishwasher Pete, as featured on This American Life, who enjoys bus travel between kitchen dish duty gigs. Personal experience tells me that bus riders tend to be short on cash and run the spectrum of socialization issues from complete freakish withdrawal to endless high-volume cellphone chattering sorts. Stereotypes tell us recently released ex-cons and people afraid to fly get on the bus. Characters, you might call them. All crammed into sardine-sized wedges of thinly cushioned seats sharing air that bears testament to poor air circulation and a variety of hygiene faux-pas.

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Were the 20-30 folks who reportedly missed the last bus out of Ventura last week these sorts of characters? Who's to say, really. Bottom line, they were 20-30 people out of many who no longer have busing it out of Ventura as an option, and that's the unfortunate bottom line of Greyhound's act of abandonment. Ventura County Transportation Commission executive director Darren Kettle agrees that multiple options for transit are important in the area. He's quoted as saying: “At this point reducing transportation options, be it bus or rail, given the nature of how much we are continuing to move as a county, is probably not the best direction to go."

The option of busing it long distance across America on Greyhound began in 1914, long before air travel was a consideration, and only a few decades after trains became the popular mode of rapid cross-country travel. After many periods of expansion and changing of ownership, Greyhound's ownership went to FirstGroup of Scotland after they acquired parent company Laidlaw, who'd bought the declining bus line in 1999 (Wikipedia). The last several years have brought massive restructuring to their service, including the elimination of lines. Competition from discount airlines and other bus services have also gouged their profitability.

Fundamentally, in 2008, bus riding for long distances is stigmatized, and almost justifiably so. The trips are long and generally uncomfortable, and the margin of savings not wholly enough to trump air travel for the majority of interstate travel. With their recent disappearance from Ventura, it will be interesting to see how many other cities lose their Greyhound terminal in the coming months and years as the company approaches its centennial year of service.

Greyhound currently operates full-service bus terminals in Anaheim, Glendale, Hollywood, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, North Hollywood, Norwalk, Oxnard, Palmdale, Pasadena, San Fernando, Santa Ana, and Temecula, and in more than 60 other cities in California, with additional "limited service stops" in other areas.

Photo of the former Greyhound Bus station in Santa Monica by Omar Omar & of the interior of a Greyhound bus by ptaff via Flickr