What Would You Do if You Were Running Greyhound?

Greyhound Lines is being acquired by the German company FlixMobility at a cost of $78MM…which seems small for a storied company with a well-known brand name which still provides important services in a lot of places…but I haven’t looked at the financials.  Certainly a much lower number than the 2007 acquisition of the Dog for $3.6 billion.

So, what should FlixMobility do with this property in the current market, economic, and technology environment?

31 thoughts on “What Would You Do if You Were Running Greyhound?”

  1. FlixMobility ought to reflect on the fact that it knows jack and sh*t about running a profitable bus company on the scale of Greyhound inside the North American market, and then get out before they lose their asses financially.

    There are reasons that the intercity bus market collapsed, and it’s got nothing to do with things that Greyhound had control over. Buying them and putting new people in ain’t likely to fix the issues, either.

    I’ll bet money that the poor bastards at FlixMobility are putting the smoking remnants of their investment up for sale inside of a decade, maybe even less. Greyhound was not a “poorly-run company”, at all–They were killed by a bunch of different factors, not the least of which is their market being filled with enough low-life scum that even the “economically disadvantaged” won’t get on a bus with them. The last time I took a bus anywhere was about ten years ago, and the price was about the same as an airline ticket, the passengers were flat-out disturbing, and you got let off in the middle of an inner circle of hell.

    It’s pretty bad when your meth-addict acquaintance warns you about the risks of riding a bus…

    Not predicting success here, but I think they’d be likely to see a higher return on just burning their cash for heat in the wintertime. Leaving it in Germany, mind you…

  2. I ride a bus from Madison to O Hare or downtown Chicago sometimes (it isn’t Greyhound). Always very clean, quiet, nice and they have wifi. You can be productive. I love this type of transportation.

    I think a new company could make a nice run with Greyhound if they eliminated the super long routes, cleaned up the busses and started to make it look and act like a little more like a premium type of service. Many times the time difference is the same as flying when you factor in security check ins and all that jazz. No weight limit on your luggage – and on and on.

    Also they should elminate the “hood” routes. If the place is crime ridden, cancel it. Probably some short term pain with that, but so it goes.

    There are a lof of things they can do to improve it and it seems like they got it for next to nothing. I hope they can figure it out because flying is so miserable.

  3. My daughter and I have always thought there would be a market for an express luxury bus line running regular routes between larger cities – but now from the downtown bus terminals, oh, dearie me, no. A top-line service, with pick-up and drop-off points at nice safe places, generous seats, ongoing internet connections, meals ordered and catered from a selection of restaurants along the route and delivered when the bus passes through at mealtimes.
    My Dad used to like taking Greyhound for long interstate trips – he said that he usually met interesting people, but the last couple of trips that he took, he did say that there was a pretty disreputable element on board.

  4. Mike, you’re forgetting the heavy hand of governance. Greyhound is locked in to a lot of the things that bankrupted them due to Federal and State regulators. They weren’t, for example, allowed to abandon their inner-city bus stations because those were “critical” to serving the underclass market.

    I don’t know if my informants about what was driving them down were fully accurate in what they were telling me, but they were all former Greyhound employees who’d been down in the trenches. I asked one guy why they’d stayed on in Seattle where they did, and he told me they were mandated to stay there by the government, and they couldn’t refuse passengers. Hell, if he had someone get on the bus, without paying, he couldn’t throw them off, by the end of it.

    I think the bigger problem with Greyhound is regulatory, more than anything else. I wouldn’t enter that market for love nor money; small local routes you can easily control, maybe. The interstate/intercity stuff is death by a thousand cuts. Some of the companies I know making a success of it aren’t doing it as bus lines; they’re actually motor-coach based livery services by law. It’s a weird business to get into, from what all I’ve picked up over the years.

  5. @Sgt Mom,

    I think the “regular route” thing would be what killed you, because that triggers engagement by the various levels of government. You can do “party bus”, you can do “airport limousine”, you can do a lot of charter-bus deals, but the minute you commit to being an actual bus line, all the heavy hand of regulation hits you, and hits you hard.

    I spent a morning waiting for an appointment sitting in a breakfast place with a small number of former Greyhound types eating breakfast as a kind of reunion deal… They got together weekly, just to keep in touch. The stuff you’d hear would make you wonder how the hell Greyhound managed to last as long as it did.

    I think you could do the luxury party bus deal, but you’d have to be damn careful about the parameters, and carefully edge around the whole “scheduled service” deal that triggers the Feds involvement.

  6. There is an outfit called Megabus. Al least pre-covid, they ran routes up and down I35 in Texas among many other places. When I looked at them as an alternative to flying from DFW to San Antonio, they didn’t use bus terminals that I remember, I think they used mall parking lots.

    They are trying for an upscale vibe. Of course the airlines used to be where you went to avoid the riff-raf.

    The big advantage that airports have is that they have so much wasted space, there’s plenty of room for parking. Bus and train terminals, located “down town” didn’t need parking when they started and now it’s one of the biggest limits they face. High speed rail would have the same problem if they ever manage to build one where there’s any population. Nothing here is remotely like conditions in Europe.

  7. There is (or *was*, not sure which) a company offering overnight sleeper bus service SF to LA. Funded at least in part by Founder’s Fund, a Peter Thiel spinoff focusing on companies with young founders. They ran into some difficulties with ride characteristics that made it too difficult for people to sleep, then got hit along with everyone else with Covid. They were addressing the first problem with better stabilizer technology. Not sure if they’re coming back or not. Most recent on could find from them is here:


  8. Euro-scale things that work in Europe generally do not transfer well to continental-scale regions like the US. Everybody forgets that Germany has about 80 million people packed into a totally developed area the size of New Mexico. There are economies of scale due to the congestion that simply don’t apply here in the US–If you took the German population instead of the area, you’d have nearly the entire West and upper Middle West of the US to spread out across, and then you’d start to see the same issues that we have with making all those nice European amenities actually work.

    Everyone decries the lack of mass transit, but the thing is… Ain’t nobody going to use it if they built it. Friend of mine was all about the developing network over in the Puget Sound area when it was proposed, but you want to know what? She never, ever uses it now that it’s there–She drives every single day. Why? It’s “safer”, it’s “more convenient”, and whole host of other things people actually chose their transportation needs on.

    She’s still for it, though… For other people. For her, she’s gotta pick up dog food, shop, run errands… And, you’re not putting a 30-lb bag of dog food into your carry-bag and lugging it home, are you?

    Advocates for mass transit are mostly idiots–They’ll hardly ever use the various things they advocate for themselves, and would bitch heavily if they were ever required to rub elbows with the masses they thing ought to be using them.

    It’s the same with the inter-city bus system–You won’t find Karen entrusting her college-age kiddoes to those things, to run them off to college. That’ll be the family car, driving across a couple of states.

    Mass transit kinda makes sense in heavily urbanized regions. That’s not the vast majority of the US, a fact which seems to escape the dolts we’ve set in charge of the place.

  9. There’s been a lot of talk recently about electric air taxis, quite a few startups and deals in this space. Probably only about 100 miles range with required reserves, though. Not sure this is enough for viability.

  10. FAIL.

    The correct answer is spread around a few million dollars in donations to various demonrat politicians- perhaps even buy a few pieces of Hunter’s artwork- and watch those pesky regulatory issues disappear.

    A few million more, and maybe they’ll ban Megabus and the like, or even make Greyhound mandatory for interstate travel by the unvaccinated.

    No need to worry about maintaining a viable business model these days, at least for the connected.

  11. Like Dan, I’ve taken the CoachUSA to/from OHare and found it convenient (unless you have to take a red-eye) and as comfortable as you can expect. It was very handy when AA’s local affiliate had enough delays stack up enough to make them cancel the evening flights from OHare to Madison.

    About 15 years ago the driver put off a passenger for smoking in the toilet. I wonder if they still have that authority.

  12. “Euro-scale things that work in Europe generally do not transfer well to continental-scale regions like the US.”

    The EU is 445 million people and operates as a single border-less entity. The American market might benefit from someone who can operate at that level, and they did steal Greyhound. ;)

  13. Dan, James the Lesser, does Van Gelder still make that run? My Mom favored that bus to get to O’Hare. I would take her to Madison, and off she’d go!

  14. Oh yes, Van Galder is still running. It is fantastic. There are tradeoffs.

    Time – 2.5 hours or so to get to O Hare. This is a non issue if you just want to relax and zone out and watch the world go by, something I actually like to do on occasion. Flight time to O Hare is around 25 minutes. Factoring in the basically non existent security line at MSN (usually zero people if you have PreCheck) and waiting at airport, that moves up to an hour plus. So actual giveup is around one to one and a half hours. Then you have to get back, so x 2.

    Cost – Usually it’s about a wash, but it depends on if you are flying with luggage or not. It is pretty close.

    It is mostly a time thing in reality. It is also better to fly direct if you can so O Hare gives that advantage and I believe Van Galder still goes to Midway too. I wish my wife didn’t hate busses.

    I had a conference in downtown Chicago a few years ago. The bus dropped me off at union station and I walked to the hotel. Extremely pleasant, didn’t have to pay ridiculous Chicago parking rates, etc. And I gained that 5.5 – 6 hours round trip time to be productive or doze, rather than stare out the window (otherwise known as driving) and fighting traffic.

    Summary – I think there are opportunities for a bus service to work in certain regions. I doubt the viability of taking a bus from Chicago to Seattle. And that would be one long, nasty haul.

  15. Ah, yes, Van Galder. Two of old Sam Van Galder’s sons were in my Boy Scout troop back in the day. One of the bus stops was in Janesville, about 40 miles south of Madison, where I grew up, and it was a pleasant and convenient way to get to the airport if you weren’t pressed for time. Apparently it still is.

    Greyhound wasn’t a bad way to travel back in the late sixties. There were always old guys who used the bus stops in out of the way places as senior centers. They were often happy to tell you their life stories with a little prompting, and some of them were quite entertaining. As some of the other commenters have noted, times have changed. Thanks to the benevolent hand of government, the line caters to a somewhat less refined clientele today.

  16. Interesting that ownership of Greyhound is being passed from foreign UK-based FirstGroup to foreign German-based FlexMobility.

    For years, smaller European countries have had concerns about their becoming “branch business” economies, as larger companies from bigger European countries bought over local businesses. Those local businesses then suffered (and often eventually died) from remote foreign management which did not understand local issues and was unaware of local opportunities.

    A consequence of the unsustainable US Trade Deficit is that foreign companies end up with Dollars they cannot use to buy American goods — because we don’t make them anymore. They end up buying US businesses, turning the US into a foreign-run branch economy. This will have consequences.

  17. The EU is 445 million people and operates as a single border-less entity. The American market might benefit from someone who can operate at that level, and they did steal Greyhound. ;)

    The troll demonstrates an amusing amount of ignorance since Texas approximates the size of Europe.

  18. Oh gee Mike. The area of the EU is about 4,2 million K squared and Texas is a bit less that 700,000 K squared. So the EU is about 6 times bigger than Texas.

  19. The United States has more than twice the land area as the European Union, which is why flying is much more popular in the US instead of trains or buses. Canada is big too but FlixMobility’s purchase of Greyhound probably didn’t include Greyhound Canada, since that bus company permanently halted all operations in May. ;) Coach Canada, another US company, still provides some long distance bus service in Canada and between Canada and the US.

  20. “…you’d start to see the same issues that we have with making all those nice European amenities actually work.”

    It requires more: a massive fuel tax to raise the cost of auto travel and massive public transportation subside to keep consumer prices low enough to prevent bringing back horses and wagons. Been there, done that, no thanks.

    Mike was comparing the heart of Texas, not its geographic size ; )

    My preferred bumper sticker says “I wasn’t born Texan, but I got here as soon as I could.”


  21. The EU also only gets to that number by including a lot of territory that’s irrelevant to the discussion–Like, for example, the Danish possession of Greenland.

    Core Europe, once you take away the extraneous bits like Lappland and Greenland, is a lot more compact and massively denser than the US. The terrain is also a lot friendlier to mass-transit in most parts of it, with several convenient major river systems and only a couple of less-than-massive mountain chains in the way of it all. And, those chains run parallel to it all, not cross-ways like the Rocky Mountains and the other ones that make life difficult for American transportation efforts. Getting from Poland to the Pyrenees is a hell of lot easier than it is than getting from New York to San Francisco.

    There’s a book or a paper out there that compares the natural conditions of Europe and North America, and it laid very well why Europe had all the advantages it did when it came to building itself up first.

  22. The troll, in his eagerness to dump on America and any American business, makes a silly comparison. Kirk is right. Another measure. The distance from Calais to Warsaw is 824 miles. The distance to drive across Texas east to west is 786 miles. Pretty close and makes much more my point than adding up all the little peninsulas and extraneous territories. Trains and buses make better sense in the more densely populated eastern states. Once you get west of the Mississippi river, distances get big. I have driven across the country many times.

  23. “The troll, in his eagerness to dump on America and any American business, makes a silly comparison.”

    Not at all. I just pointed out the company that bought Greyhound probably knows what its doing. I’m not the one who repeatedly said they were fools, as they could not deal with size. They obviously can.

    The size obsession, can mean many things. ;)

  24. Actually, if you read with even a moderate amount of comprehension you’d not that most of us are referencing the vast difference in *density* between the EU and US.

    Small people are usually stuck on size.

  25. The last time I rode Greyhound I spent several hours in a Chicago layover. A young lad was apparently in some difficulties–he wasn’t supposed to be in Chicago. Before I could talk to him, a extremely sketchy-looking man sat down by him, heard his story, and explained that Greyhound was responsible for the mistake and gave him a script to help him get a new ticket from the station master. I wouldn’t have been able to be nearly so helpful.

  26. It will be interesting to see if this European company does better with Greyhound than the last European company. Maybe they will be smart enough to restrict routes to the more densely populated US east of the Mississippi. I’m not sure that would be enough but it might help.

  27. }}} Also they should elminate the “hood” routes. If the place is crime ridden, cancel it. Probably some short term pain with that, but so it goes.

    Except that, if you do this, some woke PoS somewhere is going to whine and moan and complain about how the “racist bastards” are abandoning the poor black ridership… They the race baiters will jump onto it and turn it into another “oppression!!” scream.

    }}} The EU is 445 million people and operates as a single border-less entity. The American market might benefit from someone who can operate at that level, and they did steal Greyhound. ;

    HEY, look! Penny decided to share with us his total failure to grasp the difference between a region the same size as the USA, with about twice the population of the USA… and far higher densities across most of it.

    Are we surprised? No, we are not.

  28. }}} with Dollars they cannot use to buy American goods

    We make lots of IP. But that’s much easier to pirate than pay for.

    }}} Oh gee Mike. The area of the EU is about 4,2 million K squared and Texas is a bit less that 700,000 K squared. So the EU is about 6 times bigger than Texas.

    He’s wrong, but then, so are you, as you’re carefully using the EU, rather than Europe, as the standard.

    The USA is a little bit smaller than Europe. The population of Europe is ca. 800m, while the US is ca. 330m. And the main thing — IF we were considering just the “EU”, would be that it is almost entirely far higher pop density than the USA… in actual fact, the pop density of the EU is literally 3x that of the USA… and the USA figure is skewed by the fact that about 1/2 the population lives in the cities, meaning most places the density is way way lower than 33/km^2

    Buses/Mass transit can be justified in the cities, and in certain dense areas like New England’s Atlantic Corridor. Nowhere else.

  29. Buses/Mass transit can be justified in the cities, and in certain dense areas like New England’s Atlantic Corridor. Nowhere else.

    Population density is the central issue in evaluating mass-transit systems, but IME enthusiasts for Euro style mass-transit usually ignore or dismiss its importance. Much of the enthusiasm for mass-transit systems seems to be driven by nostalgia for trains or for 20th Century European socialism or both.

  30. Public transportation was all but universal in the U.S. through the 70’s at least. The very small town in Southern Colorado where I lived had daily intercity bus service until then. The train station was 15 miles away but that ended some time in the ’50’s. Once you were there, it was shanks mare but you couldn’t walk more than a half mile and stay in town. Fairly small towns had bus systems, small cities had street cars.

    What killed most of that off was the cost of autos followed the same sort of curve we’ve seen with computing. Now, the only place that public transportation can compete is places like New York City where the cost of keeping a car is prohibitive and the utility questionable.

    I don’t see Americans going back to spending a significant part of every day waiting for buses able to carry only what they can carry in their arms.

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