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Greyhound stations were once a big part of America. Now, many of them are being shut

The Greyhound bus station in Richmond, Va., sits on prime real estate. Developers now plan to raze it and build apartment towers and retail space. It's one of many bus stations being shut down.
Scott Horsley
The Greyhound bus station in Richmond, Va., sits on prime real estate. Developers now plan to raze it and build apartment towers and retail space. It's one of many bus stations being shut down.

RICHMOND, Va. — As Greyhound bus #769 pulls into the station in downtown Richmond on an overcast day in January, the driver directs passengers to step out and stretch their legs while the bus is cleaned and serviced.

"If you're getting off here in Richmond, look around your seats as always," operator Jordan says. "Make sure you gather all your personal belongings."

The bus is not quite halfway through its 22-hour journey from the Port Authority in New York City to Atlanta.

But Vernon Pendergrass is changing buses here. He's on his way from Maine to South Carolina for a family funeral, which means a 10-hour layover in Richmond.

"Yeah, I'm stuck here till 9 o'clock," Pendergrass says with a rueful laugh. "Just my luck."

The Richmond station has catered to passengers like Pendergrass for more than four decades, but its days are numbered. The station's restaurant and video game room are already closed and dark. And soon the station itself may be as well.

The station sits on prime real estate in Virginia's capital, just across Arthur Ashe Boulevard from a minor league baseball park where the Richmond Flying Squirrels play. Developers have filed plans to raze the bus station and replace it with two seven-story apartment towers and retail space, according to Richmond BizSense.

It's one of nearly three dozen Greyhound bus stations that were sold to Twenty Lake Holdings, an arm of the investment firm Alden Global Capital. Downtown bus stations in Houston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia have been shuttered. And the fate of Chicago's station is in doubt.

Twenty Lake didn't respond to inquiries about its plans. Its parent company, Alden, is notorious for buying up newspapers and other businesses, slashing expenses and, in many cases, selling off the real estate.

People gather at the Greyhound bus station in Richmond.
/ Scott Horsley
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Scott Horsley
People gather at the Greyhound bus station in Richmond.

"A huge part of Americana"

Greyhound says it's in early talks with the city of Richmond about a new location to load and unload buses, but no plans have been announced.

That worries passengers like Shirleen McCoy, who comes through Richmond twice a year on her way from Charlotte, N.C., to her son's home near Washington, D.C.

"If this station is gone this time next year, I'm not going to take the bus anymore," McCoy says. "I'm not going to be outside. It's too dangerous. I'm not doing it."

The number of people traveling by bus has declined over the decades, and passenger traffic has only partly recovered from the hit it took during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, Greyhound remains a vital source of transportation for millions of people, many of whom earn less than $40,000 a year. A German company, Flix, bought the bus service in 2021 but did not acquire the privately owned stations.

"Bus stations are a huge part of Americana," says Joseph Schwieterman, an expert on bus travel at DePaul University in Chicago. "In many cities, they were the only businesses open around the clock. They had eateries open through the wee hours of the night, and there was always a buzz about them because people were coming and going."

An old Greyhound bus station that has been converted to offices is seen in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24, 2016.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
An old Greyhound bus station that has been converted to offices is seen in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 24, 2016.

Some stations became local landmarks, with art deco styling. But even the most basic offered passengers a sheltered indoor space where they could use the restroom and get a bite to eat while waiting for their next ride.

Newer bus companies like Megabus simply pick up passengers on the street, which might work fine for people traveling between big cities. But to reach the remote, rural places where buses have long been a lifeline, passengers need a place where they can make connections.

"The bus system can get you anywhere, but you may have to take two or three or sometimes four buses to get there," Schwieterman says. "And if you're deposited at a curb, that's just not a tenable situation. That's why moving to a curb is about more than comfort. It actually takes away options for people."

Lack of government support

In some cities where downtown stations have closed, buses now pick up and drop off passengers far from the center of town, where there's less access to services and public transportation.

Passengers and public officials have protested in some cases. But other cities are not sorry to see bus stations, which primarily cater to low-income passengers, removed from gentrifying downtown locations.

"In a lot of cases, I've got to blame local governments who kind of treat the intercity industry as third-class citizens," says Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, an industry trade group.

Greyhound says it would like to locate bus stations next to other transportation hubs so passengers could easily connect to Amtrak or local transit. There are a few successful examples of that, including in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Ironically, as bus stations have withered, buses themselves have gone upscale. They now offer power, Wi-Fi and free movies to laptop-toting riders, who can book in advance and reserve seats.

That's no substitute, though, for a comfortable place to wait between buses.

"I know it's a lot of upkeep, and I can only imagine what it takes to run one of these places," says Tyler Haas, who is passing through the Richmond station on his way from Putney, Vt., to Fallon, Nev. — a four-day trip. "But the station is honestly probably a big amenity for the bus."

The restaurant in the Greyhound bus station in Richmond, as well as the video game room, have already been shut down.
/ Scott Horsley
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Scott Horsley
The restaurant in the Greyhound bus station in Richmond, as well as the video game room, have already been shut down.

Pendergrass, who comes through Richmond regularly, is particularly sorry to see the station's restaurant closed.

"Their food was actually pretty decent," he says. "It's going to suck to see this place go. It's definitely a part of this city."

Pendergrass slowly makes his way down the street to a Wawa convenience store to buy some snacks.

He has 10 hours to wait until his next bus.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.