The temperature outside the Des Moines, Iowa, Greyhound bus terminal on a February morning fell to a dangerously frigid 17 degrees below zero.
But the bus driver who dropped off Ankur Singh and 10 other passengers so that they could wait for a connecting motorcoach, knowing that it would be an hour before the terminal would open, didn’t seem to care.
“He had absolutely no sympathy at all,” said Singh, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Bloomington, Ill. “He was completely apathetic.”
Singh’s experience offers a glimpse into a corner of the travel industry that receives practically no coverage or concern from the travel media: the conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of people who travel by bus.
After Singh’s motorcoach, which originated in Minneapolis, left them at the station, the passengers huddled together outside the closed building. Singh opened his luggage and added layer upon layer of clothes in an effort to keep warm.
“The wait was awful,” he said. “All we could do was huddle around for warmth. I remember one woman started shaking and her face turned really red. One passenger gave her his jacket. That act definitely restored my faith in humanity after being so poorly treated by Greyhound.”
Greyhound denies that it mistreated Singh or the other passengers.
For starters, said Maureen Richmond, a company spokeswoman, Greyhound hasn’t served Des Moines since last August. Singh was traveling on a so-called “interline” carrier, the bus equivalent of a codeshare flight. So technically, it wasn’t Greyhound that abandoned him and the other passengers to the elements.
“Greyhound terminals and agencies are open when buses are scheduled to arrive or depart,” she said, adding, “We will work with the interline carriers to help ensure that their hours are consistent with the scheduled arrivals and departures.”
Singh has been waiting a while to hear that. In February, he launched a petition on Change.org asking Greyhound to keep its terminals open, and this policy shift seems to address the loophole. It’s one that has existed for a while now, and it’s one that I should have exposed years ago.
Greyhound says that passengers shouldn’t have to wait outside its terminals and is in contact with Singh and other passengers who have been denied access to their stations, to “better understand the situation and offer assistance,” Richmond said.
“The safety and security of all motorcoach passengers is a priority for us.”
If stories like these are infuriating to travelers, they should be embarrassing to consumer advocates. Of course, no one should be left outside a bus terminal, regardless of who’s operating the motorcoach. (The codeshare excuse doesn’t fly with airlines; why should it with a bus?)
But travel journalists like me spill barrels of ink calling attention to the plight of airline passengers. We write about every little fee and frequent-flier offer, no matter how inconsequential, while ignoring the fate of the passengers who are freezing outside a decidedly less glamorous bus terminal.
Singh is hopeful that for now, at least, this problem has been fixed.
His petition collected nearly 90,000 signatures, and he said that he’s reassured by Greyhound’s promises that it won’t lock any more passengers out of its terminals, even if they are on an interline bus.
Christopher Elliott is the author of “Scammed.” &Copy; 2013 Christopher Elliott/ Tribune Media Services, Inc.