Let’s get tough with The Dog

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Once upon a time, my best friend Joyce Brookshire, who lived in Atlanta and didn’t have a car, used to call every so often and announce, “I’m comin’ in on the Dawg!” The kids and I would pile into the car and drive to the bus station on Magnolia Avenue. It was a noisy, crowded place full of vending machines and happy reunions. Those are good memories, and I don’t remember the Atlanta bus ever being late or the kids being scared.

Back then, the Intercity Motorcoach Customer Bill of Rights was pretty spot-on:

“We at Greyhound Lines Inc. pledge that as an intercity bus rider, you should experience a safe and reliable bus ride with professional and courteous service. This includes having a clean and comfortable bus with clear rules for how to ride and be safe onboard the bus and in case of emergency …”

The pledge is still on the website, if you’ve got the stomach to peruse it, and you can read the entire steaming heap of corporate b.s. here, if you’re a glutton for punishment.

Family waiting for the bus on Monday (4/18/22)

I’m pretty sure the folks who’ve been dumped out on the cold sidewalk at a Cherry Street gas station after closing time this week aren’t buying a word of it as they wait long hours for connections that always arrive late. They’ve been stranded out there every night this week because the old Greyhound station has been sold and closed its doors to riders for the last time early Monday.

Longtime Knoxvillian Keith Richardson, a member of a group that assists asylum seekers traveling North to join up with their sponsors, has been meeting Greyhound bus passengers on a regular basis. Now, he says, the group has extended its concerns to all the Greyhound passengers, not just immigrants. Here’s his public Facebook post about the situation he found Monday night:

“These people were dropped off at 7:30 p.m. today at the Marathon gas station on Cherry Street to wait outside until their connecting bus to Dallas arrives at 11:53 p.m. Greyhound closed the facility it sold without making any sort of plan for its riders’ comfort or their safety.

“A second group have been waiting to catch a bus for Richmond that was supposed to arrive at 10:50 p.m. It just now pulled up at 11:42 p.m. One customer who bought her ticket online and went to the now closed terminal on Magnolia & Central had to pay $8 to Uber to this abysmal location and stand in the cold for hours.”

Under-used Knoxville Station on Tuesday (4/19/22)

The following night, Richardson also visited the John J. Duncan Jr. Knoxville Station transit center (also known to cynics as the “John J. Duncan Jr. I-Hate-Pork-Unless-It’s-Named-After-Me” Knoxville Station because it was heavily subsidized by the feds) on Church Avenue and found it warm, well-lighted and almost deserted, its restrooms and water fountains and comfortable chairs looking like paradise compared to the “accommodations” that the Greyhound customers are finding a couple of miles away on Cherry Street.

Interstate riders of MegaBus used to be dropped off at the KAT station, but apparently Greyhound wasn’t interested enough to try to negotiate to acquire a safe, sanitary place for its passengers to use while awaiting connections.

Greyhound’s owner is the German transportation conglomerate Flixbus, which is in turn owned by a multinational bunch of vulture capitalists with an American headquarters in Texas who acquired Greyhound last October for $78 million and have been selling off assets ever since. It took them awhile to unload the Magnolia Avenue terminal, but once the baseball stadium plans started falling into place, the location became an increasingly hot property. Downtown developer David Dewhirst is the new owner.

Another volunteer shared this story:

“Another man approached and asked if I spoke Spanish. He had no jacket or coat, spoke only Spanish, was from Cuba, and couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket to Atlanta. We worked with him, ended up calling his aunt in Athens, Georgia, who wanted to buy him a ticket. He had no Wi-Fi on his phone but she was going to try to get him a ticket somehow online and try to get the driver to accept it from her phone. Don’t know if it worked but we tried and got a jacket so at least he was a little warmer. That’s all the news from the (redacted) bus tonight so now we know more and can keep up the pressure to help the people.”

Ann Jefferson is a member of the group that has been looking out for asylum-seeking Greyhound passengers. She was at the Marathon station from 6 p.m. until 12:30 Tuesday, and she is as appalled as Richardson by what she witnessed.

“I can’t imagine a worse way to handle this. They still have people buying tickets involving a transfer in Knoxville. We are a large city, and it’s ridiculous that Greyhound thinks they’re going to do business this way. The first night I went over there, Keith and I were both concerned. It was as bad as you can possibly imagine. A woman in a wheelchair came in, but her bus had already left. I don’t know what they’re going to do. This is a public-safety issue – a violation of human rights – and the city of Knoxville has to care.

Mayor Indya Kincannon says the city does care but hasn’t yet figured out how to fix the situation:

“We are trying to reach out to Greyhound officials, no luck so far. I agree it’s an intolerable situation. We have limited authority over this private entity, especially if they aren’t breaking any laws. But we can try to show them better safer alternatives, though I’m not sure what those are. …”

Here’s hoping that the deciders – both civic and corporate – figure out a way to use that big, beautiful, safe and under-utilized Knoxville Station, conveniently located just a few blocks away from the cold and unsafe sidewalks of Cherry Street. This should not be a hard choice. People left on the street without security or sanitary facilities are going to attract predators and resort to unhealthy ways to find relief. I’m a confessed backslider and not in the Scripture-quoting habit, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what I learned in Sunday School:

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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