Our Northwest

Greyhound depots gone, but ridership on the rise

Thursday, March 2, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

old Greyhound bus depotHow sad, I thought, as I read a blurb in the Yakima Herald Republic noting that Greyhound has moved its bus "terminal" from one convenience store to another.

Sad, because in years past, every American outpost from big cities to small towns had its own bustling brick-and-mortar Greyhound bus terminal. People rode Greyhound's intercity buses in droves, responding to its ads touting "Leave the driving to us."

It turns out I was wrong to judge Greyhound's vanishing depots as proof of a decaying brand. According to a DePaul University study, the intercity bus industry reversed a 40-year decline in 2006 to post growth that continues today. Most of that growth comes from shorter routes, mostly 150 to 300 miles.
modern greyhound bus

Why the revival? Industry leaders point to Millennials, who make up two-thirds of current bus riders. Many live in cities, don't own cars, and they like Greyhound's cheap tickets, Wi-Fi, mobile booking apps, and leather seats.

And thanks to 1980s bus-industry deregulation, operators like Greyhound can use curbside services or agents – such as the food store in Yakima – instead of spending money to own and maintain bus depots. That boosts profits. For riders, curbside locations are more convenient than crowded airports and train stations.

Many Baby Boomers like me remain wary of Greyhound, having watched as its urban depots deteriorated long ago, while air travel became affordable and made traveling by bus seem crude.

Greyhound scenicruiser But once upon a time, Greyhound was popular for long-distance travel. Its urban Art Deco terminals boasted restaurants, clean restrooms, newsstands, telephones, and spacious lobbies.

I rode Greyhound frequently as a youth in the 1960s between Seattle and Spokane, and from Seattle to Portland. I recall stopping at brick-and-mortar depots along the way in places like Ellensburg, Moses Lake, Ritzville, and Chehalis.

Today, those depots have been replaced by agents (like a convenience store) or curbside service.

Greyhound depot in Roseburg In the late 1950s, our family twice rode a Greyhound "Scenicruiser" (see postcard above) from Seattle to Los Angeles to visit family, a journey that spanned parts of three days. I recall stopping for a meal in Roseburg's depot (right). Today, Greyhound serves Roseburg from an Arco service station.

But unlike traveling by plane or train, today's riders who board in Roseburg and elsewhere can show up five minutes before departure and snag a seat. Now, that's convenience.

From a conservation standpoint, each Greyhound bus helps to ease traffic congestion and offset carbon emissions. Greyhound says it serves a growing market of 18 million passengers a year and encourages "a new, younger, passenger demographic."

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