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Ticket to Nowhere


Have you ever looked at the traffic on America’s highways? It is astounding and leaves no doubt about why all the hot gases emitted from our exhaust pipes are affecting climate. I am as guilty as the next of getting into my car and going wherever my whims direct me but I have tried lately to be more conscious of it and to curtail, or at least consolidate, my trips.

Chief among these “conservation” efforts have been my occasional trips to Maine. My husband and I have a home in mid-central Maine which he built in 1989 and in which he has been longing to live full-time ever since. A born Maniac, he views his return to “his” state as a homecoming, despite more than 70 years consigned to other regions.

He’s been retired a long time now and I am still working in Connecticut. I like working, do not want to stop working and so we have come to a compromise. He spends as much time as he wants in Maine, and I go with him for as much time as I can (working remotely helps a lot). It works reasonably well except for transport when our schedules do not align.

Now I could drive my car back and forth and my schedule would be my own. But that would put a lot of miles on my vehicle and one more emissions-belching car on the already clogged highways. So I have opted to use Greyhound, the only mass transit provider that goes anywhere near our house (and even that is an hour away).

As long ago as the mid-1970s, conservationists were encouraging us to give up the absolute freedom of getting into our cars for the more environmentally friendly use of trains, buses and planes so I felt a certain moral frisson the first time I got on a bus to come back home in the company of 50 or 60 like-minded passengers. “See,” I thought, “I am doing my part to save the world.”

But mass transit is not making it easy. Greyhound has been swapping schedules as fast as a Las Vegas croupier deals cards. And it is seemingly unable to hold on to the idea that the person buying a ticket actually wants to get to that destination on the day designated.

I have tried twice this summer to use the company’s services: once in July, only to get a ride to Hartford’s Union Station, where I watched my ride pull away into summer traffic and then to be told my bus was so seriously delayed that I would miss the Maine-bound bus in Boston. Now that was a serious delay, because the Boston lay-over is usually three hours. I had no choice but to call home for someone to come pick me up and never did make it to Maine.

The company apologized profusely but refused to give me a refund, saying my ticket was non-refundable. I was unhappy enough about it that, in the interest of “customer service,” I was given a one-time voucher that I can use anytime between February 22 and April 24, 2024, when prices are cheaper. Presumably, they will just pocket the difference in price.

This experience made me leery about using Greyhound again but it is the only gig in town so last week I reasoned that surely there would be no problem with getting a bus in Waterville, Maine, and connecting with the Hartford bus in Boston. Not!

As we pulled into Boston, I received a mail notification first that my connection was “seriously delayed” and moments later that it had been cancelled.

I was in a panic. The next day I had a jam-packed, can’t-be-a-no-show schedule and I was stuck in Boston. My congenial seat mate was also going to Hartford but he had chosen Amtrak for the second leg. I quickly logged on, bought a ticket on a nearly full train that would take me first to New Haven and then to Hartford, for only $139 in addition to the $107 I had already paid Greyhound. With my luck already going bad, I opted for trip insurance this time.

Happily, as I walked to the Greyhound desk to explain how unhappy I was, a Peter Pan agent asked where I wanted to go, assured he could get me on a bus to Hartford in 45 minutes, and offered a senior discount. Voila! I was on my way again. Even more happily, Amtrak gave me a full refund.

So, I resolved my issue and was back in town in time to meet my schedule. I have asked for a refund for the portion of my trip that Greyhound did not fulfill. They have assured me I am “very important” to them and that they realize changing schedules is “inconvenient.” They have so far offered me 10 percent off my next ticket. I am not impressed.

Now we hear a lot about chaos at airports, delayed and cancelled flights, missed deadlines for stranded passengers and the like. We frequently see Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg strolling through airports talking to reporters about how to improve the performance of air travel. I could tell you my own horror stories about air travel but it seems to me that as much attention should be paid to ground transport. People left stranded in South Station in Boston (rather a horrid place) are every bit as trapped as those at a major airport.

If there is to be any serious effort to get people to move away from private cars and into mass transit, we must make the not-so-friendly skies and the perfectly unaccommodating ground transit systems more responsive to people’s needs and more predictable in getting people where they pay to be.

FYI, I will probably be adding my car to the choked highway systems to get to Maine in the future.