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Rural Greyhound passengers get last boarding call

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For the first time in as long as most people can remember, the old "silver dog" failed to stop last week in Hollywood, Fla.; Hurricane Mills, Tenn.; and Ludlow, Vt. - just a few of close to 1,000 out-of-the-way hamlets where residents can no longer leave the driving to Greyhound.

So far, 750 rural towns - and hundreds of more in-between "flag stops" in even smaller places - have lost their Greyhound connection this year. Service stopped at 81 locales last week alone, and hundreds more are expected to be dropped as the Dallas-based carrier and its subsidiaries roll out new routes across the country into 2006.

It's part of a broad restructuring of the 91-year-old long-distance carrier, which is trying to regain traction after losing $22 million in the first quarter of this year. Left in a puff of exhaust are the small towns that helped define the image of the Greyhound as a low-rent hitch that appealed to Americans' sense of adventure and earned it broad cultural recognition in everything from country songs to movies like "Midnight Cowboy."

Greyhound's new strategy: adopt faster and more direct urban routes.

But in bypassed towns like Windsor, N.C., one of 31 stops in this state that lost bus service last week, the decision compounds a sense of dislocation and increasing distance from the country's booming urban centers - not to mention the loss of a cheap ticket to the big city for many rural poor, especially in the South, for whom the Greyhound remains an important connector to country roots.

"Most people come from the country, not the city, and they have to have a way to come back for weddings and funerals, and the bus is still that way for a lot of people," says Maria Wesson of Windsor, as she packs pork barbecue sandwiches at the Duck-Thru convenience store that served as the bus stop for the past two years.

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