By LYDIA BERGLAR
News that the Chattanooga Greyhound bus station had moved to Wildwood, Ga. on GA-299 came as a surprise to many when the “Chattanooga Times Free Press” and News Channel 12 released stories on November 16th and 17th, respectively.
As these news outlets explained, the City of Chattanooga wants to turn the downtown transit building (owned by CARTA – Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority) into a homeless shelter. Chattanooga residents have voiced concerns about the shelter, so plans are uncertain at this time.
The Times Free Press reported that there was no lease agreement between CARTA and Greyhound, with the bus company using the building for free for two years. Now, CARTA no longer wants the facility.
The Sentinel was unable to find out why Greyhound did not/could not find another location in Chattanooga. As of press time, the Sentinel has not heard back from Greyhound. Dave Flessner, reporter for the Times Free Press, said he did not hear back from Greyhound, and News Channel 12 also had not heard from the bus company. The Greyhound employee at the Wildwood location did not offer a comment to the Sentinel, nor was she able to provide contact information for a Greyhound spokesperson.
The Times Free Press article quoted Kevin Roig, a spokesperson for mayor Tim Kelly, who said, “Police and the mayor separately have witnessed multiple disembarkations with passengers leaving on foot with their bags, apparently making their way into our homeless services area.” The article quoted Roig saying that the bus station “does not need to be in the city itself to effectively serve the metropolitan area.”
This article also read, “Greyhound said the new bus stop is just a 10-minute drive from the former bus stop.” However, according to Google Maps, it’s typically a 16 to 22 minute drive, an hour-long bike ride, or a three-and-a-half hour walk. All those familiar with the area know that it is not an easy or safe journey for pedestrians or cyclists.
News Channel 12’s article said that a Chattanooga city spokesperson sent the following statement: “Neither CARTA or the City has the responsibility or authority to architect the mix of private enterprises that exist along its routes. If there is sufficient demand for Greyhound or similar bus travel, the market will respond. Meanwhile, Groome Shuttle in East Ridge offers service to Nashville and Atlanta on a much more frequent schedule than Greyhound. Market forces determine a commercial bus route’s viability. If the community feels it needs to subsidize a route, that is a question for Council. Furthermore, a station need not be in the city itself to effectively serve the Metropolitan Area.”
Passengers coming from or to Dade County, Lookout Mountain, or Sand Mountain may find the new location more convenient than the previous location, but for Chattanooga passengers, the change is quite inconvenient.
Dade County residents have expressed concern about the change and what it might mean for our county, particularly regarding illegal immigration. Ted Rumley (county executive) addressed the concern that many have about (in his words), “Them unloading and not loading back.” He noted that this is an issue across the entire nation, but, “The I-75 and I-59 corridors are getting their share of them.”
Rumley reported that he is working with Sheriff Ray Cross on the issue. He noted that this is fairly new territory for Dade County, and that the county and sheriff’s office must be careful to protect people’s rights. Rumley said, “It’s a free country. You can’t just stop Greyhound from coming into your county.”
He added that the federal government supplements Greyhound through programs such as the Federal Formula Grant Program for Rural Areas.
Cross told the Sentinel that at this point, he’s done everything he can within his authority, including contacting Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mike Cameron, and other local leaders. A private business is hosting the bus stop on private property, so the sheriff’s office authority is limited.
Mohammed Mughel has owned the Exxon gas station and Billy’s Truck Stop where Greyhound now has its stop for nearly three years. He reported that Greyhound approached him after looking at other nearby locations and choosing this truck stop. “They couldn’t find a spacious area. Smaller areas are difficult for the buses to get in and out.” Moghul’s Exxon lot has plenty of space for buses to get in and out.
Greyhound compensates Mughel for the use of his lot. When asked if the increased traffic is good for his business, he said, “Yes, it goes both ways. It’s good for business, but there’s a lot of shoplifting, so we have to be very watchful.”
He said that the store is excited to host Greyhound. “This is a new thing for us. We’ll see how things work. I have local customers who are happy about this because they commute easily [on Greyhound].”
Addressing concerns about increased traffic, Mughel said, “Sometimes, people are worried about the traffic. That is beyond anybody’s control,” he said, noting that I-24 already leads to large amounts of traffic on GA-299. “It’s very bad – everybody knows it – during the afternoon, rush hour, if an accident happens, when construction is going on.”
He said that when the Greyhound station first opened in Wildwood, passengers had difficulty getting taxis or Uber or Lyft drivers, but now, the taxi companies know the bus schedules and have vehicles waiting for bus passengers. Speaking from personal experience, Mughel said that it used to be difficult to get Uber and Lyft to come to Dade County, “but now they are coming here, getting passengers, dropping passengers. It’s going in a positive way.”
He said that the store works to provide desired items, clean bathrooms, and space for all drivers, truckers, and Greyhound passengers.
When the Sentinel was at the Wildwood station during the early afternoon of November 28th, three passengers were waiting to board Greyhound. Don, a passenger waiting for the 1:10 p.m. bus, is a truck driver with Covenant Transport (under the group, Covenant Logistics). He was traveling to visit family in Memphis, taking a Greyhound first to Atlanta and then to his destination.
For Don, the location was not inconvenient because the company paid for his taxi to the bus stop and his Greyhound ticket.
He has also used Megabus in other cities, which he prefers over Greyhound. Compared to the intracity Megabus, he said the intercity Greyhounds are small. “Everybody’s shoulder to shoulder. They have charging ports on the bus, but none of them work. The ones on the Megabus worked.” Also, compared to city bus stops, the gas station bus stop was a shift for Don.
However, another passenger boarding the bus noted that while there’s a main Greyhound terminal in Atlanta, most other stops are at gas stations similar to the Wildwood stop.
He had used the former Chattanooga location before, reporting, “The Chattanooga stop was horrible. They didn’t even have restrooms. This is way better, with restrooms, and you can get you some snacks before you get on the bus.”
He used the seating area inside the gas station while waiting for the bus to take him to Columbus, Ga. As a truck driver running routes in Georgia, the Wildwood location is more convenient for him. He said, “The first time I came up here, I had to go to Chattanooga and we were on that long bus ride and had to sit outside and there were no restrooms.”