Greyhound used to be the symbol of American mobility; of transportation for all. To prove it, they made killer commercials.
…Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us !! America is discovering the comfort and convenience of Greyhound… [jingle]
That was 1980. Today, Greyhound is owned by a British company. Its reputation is no longer one of comfort and convenience.
And instead of providing a key link for American transportation, Greyhound is cutting its service in rural areas.
In June, the company announced it would no longer serve some towns along I-91, including Keene and Brattleboro.
That doesn’t sit well with Roberta Mastrogiovanni.
Its really important that they know that they just can’t leave small towns with nothing. That’s super irresponsible, says Mastrogiovanni, who owns The Corner News in Keene. Along with cigarettes and soda, they sell Greyhound tickets.
Mastrogiovanni says she’s been selling fewer tickets in recent years, but part of the reason is that Greyhound has reduced its schedule.
"We have a northbound bus that comes out of the Port Authority in New York. But anyone coming in from New York has to leave the Port Authority at 5:30 a.m., which is really difficult. And we used to have an 8 o’clock departure out of South Station in Boston. Now we have no return trip from Boston. So we can get people to Boston. The only way they can come back is if they want to sleep in the Springfield, Mass station. Believe me, nobody wants to do that."
No, no one wants to stay the night in the bus station.
But even with only two departures a day, people like Susan VonStade do still rely on Greyhound.
"I ride it to come up here on weekends to see my sister-in-law. The house actually belongs to my mother, who was born here in Keene New Hampshire. Not too far from the bus station."
VonStade lives in New Haven, CT, where she works in a hotel. She’s been riding Greyhound since the days of those cheesy commercials, and she has the stories to prove it.
"Yeah, when they first put up the roundabout, the bus driver didn’t know if he should go around it or what. So he decided to go over it. It was a little confusing, but he finally got the hang of it."
Susan and I both boarded the bus in Keene.
We had lots of room to stretch out. There were only two other passengers asleep in the back.
And that, says Greyhound spokesperson Timothy Stokes, is the problem.
"Every year Greyhound evaluates its routes and decides where service should be increased or decreased due to passenger activity. From these locations, currently, we have seen low ridership, which has provided us the information that it’s possible that we should possibly end service in the area."
Translation: the route between Keene and Brattleboro just can’t be profitable.
Kit Morgan with NH Department of Transportation understands that problem.
"There is really no way to profitably serve a rural area. You just don’t have the population density, and you don’t get enough people on the bus to pay for it."
Morgan says that the only way to keep these rural lines operating is to entice carriers with subsidies.
That’s exactly what Vermont has done. They’ve stepped in to support the Keene and Brattleboro stations through the fall.
New Hampshire has traditionally kept its wallet closed when it comes to transportation subsidies. The state ranks 42nd in per capita support for public transportation.
But Greyhound is still trying. The company has proposed a separate route between Manchester and Albany, New York with a stop in Keene. And they are asking for subsidies to help fund it.
Morgan says DOT is considering the proposal, but, why Albany?
"It didn’t really make a lot of sense to us, either, to be honest. So we looked for some data to support it, potential ridership or research they had done, cause I’m certainly not aware of any great demand, to go in that direction."
The State won’t decide on that route until next year. For riders in Keene, adding Manchester as a travel destination would be a plus. And depending on scheduling, the new line could provide a way home from Boston.
One that doesn’t require bringing along a sleeping bag.