Battle Of The Buses

Don't go Greyhound if you want to be on time

July 27, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun Reporter

With a slowing economy and rising gas prices, travelers are looking for ways to vacation on the cheap. Nothing seems quite as frugal as taking the bus. Trust us, we know. Three Sun reporters each traveled from Baltimore to New York on the same day on three different bus lines - the new, upstart, the Chinatown bus and the stalwart Greyhound. The good news is everyone made it back safely. The bad news is some of them may never go near a bus again.

The assignment to travel to New York on Greyhound, typically viewed as the premiere bus service, didn't seem that big of a chore. In fact, I secretly gloated. I was taking a proven stalwart - not one of those other shaky rides. But my trip soon turned out to be a bust.

The venerable travel company proved no more reliable than its lower-priced competitors in the category that matters the most: on-time arrival. And, while Greyhound offers a few important perks, such as clean restrooms and a convenient drop-off point in the Big Apple, I paid dearly for these advantages.

My trip hit a pothole the moment I began to plan it. The Greyhound Web site is slow, difficult to navigate and seems to go out of its way to hide crucial information.

For instance, I paid a whopping $75 for a ticket that I could have bought for $46. A Greyhound telephone operator quoted me a price of $75 for a nonrefundable fare for travel the next day. When I checked the Web site (, I found the same price, though it could be reduced slightly to $63 for tickets purchased three days in advance.

It wasn't until I had completed my trip and went back to the Greyhound Web site that I found a tab advertising "online specials." Typing "NYDCB" into the slot for "Coupon Code" cuts the cost of travel from Baltimore to New York nearly in half. Ouch!

Perhaps I hadn't seen the discount before I left because I was blinded with frustration at trying to determine if parking is available at Greyhound's downtown location at 2110 Haines St. If that information is provided anywhere on Greyhound's Web site, it is well-hidden. I tried phoning the station. No one answered. Then, I tried calling another terminal, where the agent gave me several alternate phone numbers for the downtown station - all of which went unanswered.

After 30 minutes, I finally roused a supervisor, who answered my inquiry about parking with a decisive "No."

So instead of leaving from downtown, the next morning I drove a few miles farther to the Baltimore Travel Plaza. After paying $10 for parking (permits are sold in the lobby of the Best Western Hotel), I walked into the Greyhound terminal and joined the line of other sleepy, New York-bound passengers.

And there we waited. The 8:20 a.m. bus apparently had broken down, so another was dispatched to take its place. The passengers exchanged a few bitter jokes about our greyhound having a thorn in its paw. Finally, the replacement bus arrived, pulling out of Baltimore at 8:50 a.m.

Once aboard, I took note of certain creature comforts: The air-conditioning worked. So did the footrests, which are important for vertically challenged passengers like me.

I'm persnickety about public restrooms, but the admittedly tiny lavatory didn't smell noxious (a major plus) and was clean. Though there was no water for washing up, there was an ample supply of hand sanitizer, an acceptable alternative.

The bus stopped just once, to pick up passengers in Wilmington, Del. We were warned that if we got off to stretch our legs, we risked being left behind.

I fretted when the bus emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel at 12:30 p.m., nearly half an hour late. I worried that I wouldn't be able to meet friends for lunch before attending a 2 p.m. matinee.

But, although I arrived in New York a few minutes later than my friends, I actually beat them to the restaurant. Greyhound uses the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan, an easy stroll to the Theater District. Rival bus services drop passengers at New York's Penn Station, 11 blocks farther away, and other less central locations.

After taking in a performance of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, I made it back to the bus terminal with nearly a half-hour to spare before my scheduled 5 p.m. bus.

At least, that's what I thought. The line waiting for the bus was long, and little did I know that, even though I had a reservation, I was about to be bumped.

In the past, I've been denied a seat on flights that were oversold ... but a bus?

Yup. At 5:15 p.m., I watched my motor coach pull out of the terminal, leaving me and about 20 other disgruntled passengers stranded in its wake. When I complained, an attendant told me that riders with confirmed reservations can push their way to the head of the line.

If that's the case, why didn't he say so the first time I showed him my ticket?

Luckily, another bus was scheduled to depart for Baltimore at 5:30 p.m., and it had plenty of room. That bus left precisely on time, and the trip back to Charm City was otherwise uneventful.

Nonetheless, the next time I go to New York, I won't leave the driving to Greyhound.

Greyhound responds

We talked with Dustin Clark, a spokesman for Greyhound, and here was his response:

On the ticket price: "We do have specials that we run online, called e-fares, that can consistently be found at If a customer has access to the Internet, we do encourage customers to take advantage of those fares."

On the late arrival: "It's one of our top priorities to get our passengers to their destinations safely and on time. With bus travel, there are a lot of things, for example, traffic, that can cause a delay."

On being bumped: "We don't limit the number of tickets we sell for a single scheduled departure, so when there are more tickets sold for a bus, we will bring in another bus or another driver to leave at the same time. So it's very common to see more than one bus departing at a single scheduled time."

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