Greyhound bus riders say the company’s new Knoxville stop at a North Cherry Street gas station is unsafe because it leaves them exposed as they wait for their bus.
Passengers are now dropped off and picked up in the parking lot of the gas station and convenience store instead of the indoor terminal with bathrooms like the one that just closed at 100 E. Magnolia Ave. in the Old City. With several buses arriving and departing at night at the Marathon gas station that closes at 10 p.m., many are literally left in the dark.
Mildred Irizarry, a regular bus rider who travels 21 hours to Knoxville from New York, told Knox News she didn’t know about the new drop-off site until she arrived this week.
“I come to visit my daughter here about once or twice a month, and I’m not happy with the new location. I was really surprised that they would move the bus stop here. I hope they can find another place that’s safer for us because there are people who have to wait for hours or sometimes until midnight for their bus,” she said.
Irizarry’s daughter, Midred Pride, says she worries for her mother’s safety and is afraid to drop her off at the location alone.
“Anything can happen out here. It’s very dangerous. There’s no shelter, and we need a better location that’s not on the side of the road, pretty much. Right now the bathroom is closed, and it’s just unfair,” she said. “I work nights and I have to get up early to get my kids to school, but I can’t just leave my mom out here this late at night. I just hope there’s a game plan for a way to address this location going forward.”
On Thursday night, nearly two dozen passengers were waiting past 11 p.m. next to the closed gas station with three buses running late.
Michael Kilian, executive editor for the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in New York, traveled to Knoxville this week for his late aunt’s memorial service. He documented the concerning conditions.
“There is absolutely no seating or shelter. Bus riders were waiting, sometimes for hours sitting on curbs or even lying down on the ground. The convenience store’s restroom had an out-of-order sign, and there was at least one person present who clearly was not present to ride the bus.
“I ended up meeting a man who had just gotten released from Peninsula. He was in recovery, and you have someone out there like him exposed to all these elements and temptations with no support. Shelter, seating, security would seem to be the bare requirement to treat people with respect and dignity,” Kilian told Knox News.
“How did Knoxville let this happen and how did Greyhound let it happen? Bus passengers are often from marginalized communities or are at-risk for one thing or another, including addiction disease. And everyone is at risk of exposure to rain or cold or heat in conditions such as those outside the Marathon store. My sense from a Google search is this is occurring in other cities, too.”
Kilian is right. Greyhound uses gas stations and public places across the country as its arrival and pickup locations.
Crystal Booker, Greyhound’s senior communications specialist, said in a statement to Knox News said these types of sites are a normal part of the intercity bus industry.
“Greyhound stops at a range of locations across its extensive network. Some of these stops include convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants. While Greyhound was not the owner of its previous location, we did a thorough review of our business in Knoxville and decided to transition to the aforementioned industry-wide model so that we could continue to provide this essential service to the community,” Booker said.
On Wednesday night, a separate Greyhound bus stranded passengers overnight at the Red Roof Inn off Kirby Road in West Knoxville for more than 24 hours after a driver was unable to operate the bus.
“We stopped at the Cherry Street location and they told us that we were going to drive us to the hotel to pick up and change drivers, but the driver came out and was walking as if he was inebriated. The police were called and told us that they weren’t going to allow him to drive the bus, so we’ve been waiting ever since,” said Derrick Johnson, a passenger from Miami traveling to Johnson City.
Kathy Sheppard, who was traveling with her daughter, said the experience was miserable.
“They left us without a penny to get food. I am 55 years old with arthritis. I should not have had to take a nap on a floor in a corner. It’s just not right. Me and my daughter are both mentally disabled and we spent more than $607 a piece round trip coming from California. It’s pitiful. There was a family of five with teenage kids traveling with us, and they shouldn’t be treated like that either. Bus riders should be treated with respect like everyone else.”
Keith Richardson, a volunteer with Knoxville International Transit Assistance, helped abandoned passengers by paying for a room at the hotel for passengers to wait, a single room to share for the shower and food.
The group provides food and assistance to those seeking asylum from other countries and traveling on public transit, and regularly visits the Greyhound stop. The group recently committed to focusing on all Greyhound passengers.
“We have been monitoring the new location and sending out volunteers in cycles to make sure there’s coverage when buses arrive. They had plenty of time to plan for a better transition, and they didn’t do anything to make sure of that, ” Richardson said.
The former station in the Old City was sold to Knoxville Southern Station LLC for $1.45 million. The new owners haven’t disclosed their plans for the site.
“When we see a situation like this, how can we not help these people? There are people coming from the border with just the clothes on their back, no money or phone, or understanding of how to work the system. We’ve seen those in wheelchairs out here, mothers with infants at the bus stops who need diapers and wipes or feminine products, blankets, and over-the-counter medicines and they are always so grateful for our help,” said volunteer Elsa Nownes.
Geri Mulligan said she assisted a passenger stranded at the Cherry Street location for more than 24 hours.
“We had a young girl who attempted to call an Uber to come pick her up and was told they wouldn’t pick up here because it was unsafe after dark. They wouldn’t come until the morning,” Mulligan said. “We have seen people needing a place to change their babies. It’s just terrible.”
How other cities are attempting to remedy unsafe intercity bus stop locations
Although Greyhound is privately owned, city officials across the country are attempting to step in when they see unsafe stops. Last year in Louisville, a new station location drew concern. City officials called for the Planning and Zoning Committee to take a closer look.
Officials in Columbus, Ohio, took legal action last year against Greyhound, suing the company over a bus station where police responded to hundreds of calls for reported stabbings, assaults, overdoses and a shooting victim who was left in critical condition. Greyhound agreed to increase security with no less than two uniformed security officers on duty at all times plus better lighting.
In Trotwood, Ohio, city officials worked to improve conditions for those who ride Greyhound. Trotwood’s city manager and officials met with a Greyhound representative to discuss the concerns.
Back in Knoxville, Vivian Underwood Shipe, a longtime community advocate, said she is pushing leaders and the police chief to address concerns about the new location and wants it relocated to the KAT bus station downtown. She also wants better security in the interim.
“The city has a responsibility to its citizens that is not being met, and we don’t need to wait, We need to do something about it right now,” she said.
Scott Erland, spokesperson for the Knoxville Police Department, said officers are aware of the concerns about the new self-service station on Cherry Street.
“Our East District patrol office has the Greyhound bus schedule and relayed that to the patrol officers who work that area. We, unfortunately, don’t have the available personnel to provide around-the-clock security for the Greyhound location, but officers are going to be keeping an eye on it and assisting passengers who are left waiting for extended periods of time as needed,” Erland said.
Knox News asked Greyhound if there were any plans to address the concerns about travelers’ safety or improve the conditions. They declined to comment.