October 17, 2007 | 10:15 p.m. CST
COLUMBIA — A light drizzle dampened the uncovered area in front of the Greyhound bus station, where Denise Owens and Luis Hernandez waited for the building to open at 1 p.m. on a recent Monday. Owens sat on a weathered bench beside her lone leather bag and a crutch, a grim look on her face and a cast encasing her right leg. Beside her, Hernandez sat on a cinder block, surrounded by his three duffel bags, because there was nowhere else to sit besides the ground.
Owens came to Columbia that day, arriving at around 3 a.m., for a doctor’s appointment at University Hospital, and she was trying to get back to Nevada, Mo. Hernandez, who had come to Columbia from Winston-Salem, N.C., to visit friends, had been waiting for almost four hours for a ride. His friends, who are Columbia residents, were having a difficult time finding the station.
“When they (Greyhound) closed the restaurant at 10, they closed the restroom,” Hernandez said. “If it was nighttime, I’d be stranded.”
When Owens arrived at the station at noon to go back to Nevada, the building and its snack shop and one bathroom were closed. They did not open until 1 p.m., when regular business hours began. This left her and the others sitting outside, unprotected from the rain.
“Right now, the way the station is set up, I wouldn’t leave anyone out here,” Owens said. “There’s no shelter, no facilities to use the restroom — this station is like something out of the ’60s.”
A report by John Glascock, director of Public Works, has reopened an ongoing City Council discussion about the local Greyhound station, located on Big Bear Boulevard off Missouri 763. One of the city’s goals for the future is to move Greyhound’s over-the-road services to Wabash Station at 126 N. Tenth St.
Hidden behind Vonderahes, a construction and lawn equipment store, and a Hertz equipment rental company, Greyhound’s brick building and blue-and-red sign are not clearly visible from the highway. Outside the station, the only place for riders to sit is on a gray bench big enough for only two people. Inside the station, a small, easily congested check-in area greets customers, an open space interrupted by three other crowded rooms.
The largest part of the building is the dining area, where customers can sit on plastic chairs at plastic tables. On the Monday when Owens and Hernandez were there, only four riders used the dining area between 1 and 2:30 p.m., even though more than 30 stood waiting for a bus to St. Louis at 2:30 p.m.
The Greyhound station is owned by Big Bear Land Investments LLC, whose registered agent is Daniel S. Simon, according to records at the Missouri secretary of state’s office. The station’s condition raised concerns among City Council members as early as 2000, when Columbia Transit officials and local Greyhound franchise operator Dale Adkinson began talking about the facility and Greyhound requirements.
As a result of these conversations, Wabash’s recently completed $3.5 million renovation included partial provisions for other modes of transportation, including over-the-road bus and taxi services. Those changes included a parking and driveway area with concrete suitable for heavier vehicles such as Greyhound buses, a canopy suitable for larger buses than the city’s and the grease trap that a small restaurant would need, according to a report to the council from Glascock.
“If a McDonald’s, or anything else, is put in there, they’ll need to have the grease trap,” said Ken Koopmans, transportation manager for the Public Works Department.
Despite Wabash’s renovations, there are other reasons that the move may be unfavorable. The consensus of the council at its Oct. 1 meeting was that the local Greyhound’s requirement of having a station with a restaurant in the same building makes the move to Wabash improbable now. The city also would have to move Wabash’s administrative offices to make room for over-the-road services. Council members agreed the costs of adding a restaurant and relocating these offices would be too high.
Koopmans said the city would be responsible for the costs of building an eating area and then would rent it to a contractor.
There are other potential solutions, including a restaurant across the street from Wabash. The Greyhound company has no written requirement that local agencies have a restaurant in the same facility. Greyhound spokesman Dustin Clark said local companies decide about restaurants based on their customers and locations, but not all Greyhound’s stations have restaurants.
“It’s not a requirement, no,” Clark said. “We want to provide the most amount of convenience for our customers, but it’s not a regulation.”
The Columbia station’s snack shop is a two-room area with a long counter with chips and candy bars prominently displayed and red 1950s style tables and chairs. The odor of grease from the short-order kitchen permeates every layer, even a floor covered in crumbs.
First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton said the Greyhound station doesn’t need a restaurant, noting that the snack shop at the current station is inadequate and rarely used.
“Nobody’s going to eat in there,” Crayton said.
Despite the lack of money to build additions such as a restaurant at Wabash, the council said the issue demands attention.
Mayor Darwin Hindman expressed his commitment to this idea.
“I think we should make a considerable effort to get that service into Wabash Station,” Hindman said. “I’m going to recommend that we look vigorously at what we can do,”
The key to this project’s success will be federal 5309 funding, which is distributed to state, regional and local governments to make improvements to bus systems. Those improvements can include replacing buses and expanding or refurbishing facilities.
Koopmans said the lack of 5309 funding in 2007 makes it improbable that the city can make necessary additions to Wabash, including not only a restaurant but also a dispatch station and a secure area for packages and luggage. Without the funding, the city would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs. If the city received a 5309 grant, the Federal Transit Administration would pay 80 percent.
Glascock said in his report that it could take five to 10 years to move over-the road-services to Wabash.
This change in facilities would be one of many since the 1990s for Greyhound. In the mid ’90s, Greyhound moved from its original location at Tenth and Cherry streets, where CC’s City Broiler is today, to 608 Business Loop 70 W, across from Parkade Plaza. In October 2003, Greyhound moved to Big Bear Boulevard.
Some employees and riders are apprehensive about a downtown location today because of traffic.
Columbia resident Sandy Dapkus, who was traveling by Greyhound to Benton Harbor, Mich., said she thinks heavy traffic and a density of passengers would make Wabash unsuitable because it would be too difficult for passengers to board and for buses to get on Interstate 70.
“When all the buses come in, there are a lot of people transferring. Even the buses have a hard time parking,” Dapkus said of Wabash. “I think it would make it too crowded with all of the buses coming in.”
Adkinson disagrees that a downtown location would be too inconvenient. He said Greyhound can operate from a downtown spot again if the local station makes a few schedule adjustments, including sending buses out of Columbia earlier.
“They’ll have to change the schedule to alleviate the times in and out,” Adkinson said. “We were downtown before, for 35 years.”
Some riders, including Naomi Robinson of Columbia said services at Wabash would be more convenient. Robinson, a Greyhound customer for 20 years who was going to St. Louis with her daughter Annette, lives near the Hy-Vee and often has to take a cab to get to and from her home to the Greyhound station. She said a downtown stop would be much closer for her because it’s expensive to take a taxi to Greyhound from her home on Bethany Drive. A-1 Cabs said the fare for that trip would be $27.
“It’s a little bit hard to get out here if you don’t have a car,” Robinson said.
For Owens, Robinson, Dapkus, Hernandez and other riders, the major concern was not the location of the Greyhound station but the condition of the building. They all think it needs to be made more comfortable.
Owens emphasized that the station, especially its bathrooms, should be more friendly to people with disabilities.
“There’s no facilities for people who are handicapped, and that ticks me off,” Owens said.
Robinson said she’d like to see an awning to protect people from the weather, and she wishes there were another bathroom for passengers. Dapkus said improvements are especially important because the Columbia station sees a lot of passengers from other cities.
“It needs a good sprucing up,” Dapkus said. “You have to go through here to get to a lot of places. It’s an important stop in Columbia.”
Dapkus and Hernandez also said the schedule must be addressed. Some buses come in at 3 a.m., and the building stays open only until the last buses come into or leave Columbia at about 11:30 p.m.
Other riders, including Owens and Robinson, haven’t found this to be a major issue. Owens said she was able to get a cab easily when she came in at 3 a.m. Robinson said she has never had a problem and feels safe coming into Greyhound late at night.
“The cab service is right next door, and you don’t have to fear for your life,” Robinson said.
Riders agree the Columbia station isn’t nearly as nice as others in Missouri and elsewhere. Hernandez had just gone through Nashville and thought Columbia’s station was worse by comparison because it is in such a remote spot.
“It is way better,” he said of the Nashville station. “There’s somewhere to be, restaurants and everything.”