Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fun & Games with Greyhound

"No, I understand what you are saying."

Last night, I was talking to a bright-eyed, earnest young Greyhound bus lines employee in the Washington DC bus station.

"You are saying that although we all have tickets for the 7:15 p.m. Greyhound bus, we will not get on a bus until 10 p.m., and even then maybe we won't. I understand perfectly what you are saying. But here is what I am saying. I have a ticket. Look, it says 7:15 p.m. I was here early. So were all these people. All 300 of us have tickets for the 7:15 p.m. bus which you are saying has only ten seats. What I am saying is that I have a ticket and I want to go home."

Exasperated, with the kind of look an airline employee gives to an uncooperative passenger that is about to be approached by security, the lovely young woman responded with an eye-roll, as if she were addressing a moron.

"If you pay an additional five dollars, you'll get priority seating on the ten o'clock bus," she chirped.

Eff that, I want to be halfway through with the New Jersey Turnpike by ten o'clock.

There was a minor eruption occurring around me. I wasn't the only one who wanted to get to New York.

"If you can't honor my ticket, can I get my money back?" I wanted to get out of there and go to the train station before these other 290 people got there, especially given that in a minute, the young worker likely would need security.

Why on earth would you sell 300 tickets for a bus with ten vacant seats? Is Greyhound run by idiots?

"You can get a refund but there is a 20 percent penalty. The bus is first-come, first-served."

I subdued my natural inclination to tell her that's a stupid policy and ducked out of the crowd-of-fury as the shrieking reached fever-pitch. Let the masses try to argue the madness of policy with Ms. Logic-Is-Not-My-Middle-Name. I was headed to Customer Service.

I'd thought myself clever when I'd discovered that the Greyhound was the same price as the Chinatown buses. Only $35 round-trip. Well, I can admit I was wrong. Next time I'm taking an independent coach. Maybe even the one with on-board wi-fi. I'd only gone down to DC for the day, to meet my family for a post-Thanksgiving meal. The outgoing trip had run 20 minutes behind. I'd thought that was inconvenient. So was having to catch the 5:45 a.m. World Trade Center PATH train since trains run so rarely on weekend early mornings.

But this! Outrage.

I tried to calmly address the woman behind the counter.

"I have this ticket for 7:15 p.m. I was here early. I want to go to New York, and now they are saying the next bus which might have room is at ten. Is there some other bus, to Newark or Philadelphia?"

The ticket agent looked at me like I was crazy. She looked at the steaming mass-of-fury that had lined up behind me.

"Whoever told you that is wrong. Get back in line. Other buses are coming."


About 20 minutes later, I boarded the fourth 7:15 p.m. bus to New York and off we went, roaring towards the Turnpike.


Steven R. Stahl said...

You handled the situation better than I would have, probably. I might have cursed and cursed again, under my breath, and then been resigned to my fate--but I have a history of motion sickness on such trips, so I likely wouldn’t buy a ticket.

A look online indicates that others have had similar experiences, and that overbooking is common. Take a look at I used the search terms “Greyhound,” “bus,” “overbooking,” and “complaints” on Google.


Marie Javins said...

MariesWorldTour endowed me with public transportation coping skills. But no point exercising them more than necessary. Next time, forget Greyhound, I'll go Chinatown bus. Or Amtrak if I can sweet-talk a discount.

Ed Ward said...

Someone I know in the insurance business begged me not to use a Chinatown bus. "Nobody on earth will insure them, they're in such bad shape," he said. "They have accidents all the time and you never hear about them. Some of them are serious." He was so concerned he offered to pay my way from NYC to Philadelphia. And he hardly knows me.

Marie Javins said...

There are accidents and even worse, fights among drivers. But I've been looking at these buses and they're not just from Chinatown anymore! Some of them have nothing to do with Chinatown and are pretty posh! Anyway, I'll continue my experiments and we'll see...

Linda said...

So there are competing buses... seems like if that route can support so many buses, one of those companies could run a Shenandoah route!

Ed Ward said...

Exactly, the under-served minor cities thing that EasyJet and RyanAir do would be a great model for new bus lines.

Marie Javins said...

I saw that one of the bus lines serves the other side of Virginia, but nothing in the Shenandoah Valley.

I'll write a letter! What the hell. I have to write one to Greyhound anyway. Might as well write two.