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Weather, driver shortages, delays create nightmare for Greyhound passengers

It was cold. There was no place to charge a cell phone. The vending machines took money but didn't dispense products or refunds. And the Tim Hortons restaurant had sold out of everything except bagels and donuts.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's downtown bus terminal was filled with dozens of weary, waylaid travelers Saturday night, after Greyhound Bus experienced driver shortages and hours-long delays up and down the East Coast. And those travelers were not happy.

Passengers said the travel delays they experienced over the past few days were bad enough, but the customer service and wait conditions they've faced as a result have been a nightmare.

They described buses without heat, nasty drivers and unnecessarily "rude, mean" customer service agents. Among those in Buffalo's terminal there were as many horror stories as there were passengers. Some had to take extra time off from work, others missed flights and special events, and some were traveling days longer than planned for with small children.

On Sunday afternoon, Greyhound continued to show potential delays for some buses out of Buffalo.

A Greyhound spokeswoman said the bus company was  "doing the best we can with the resources we have available at this time."

That was small comfort to riders like college student Tanisha Sutton, who boarded a Greyhound bus in Gainesville, Florida Thursday night for a trip to visit her family in Syracuse. She said she was delayed three hours in Nashville, six hours in Cincinnati and seven hours in Buffalo.

She said that service agents told her and about 15 other passengers they could get in line in Buffalo for the next bus to Syracuse without exchanging their tickets but, once the bus arrived, the driver turned them away, saying they would have to do the exchange after all.

And even though there was room on the bus, Sutton said, the driver wouldn't wait. The next bus was full. By Saturday night, she had long spent her last dollar buying premium-priced food at concession stands. The only thing she had eaten was a few bites of a doughnut another passenger  shared with her earlier that afternoon.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority manages the bus terminal but has no influence over the buses operated by Greyhound, said spokeswoman Helen Tederous.

"Greyhound operates like a tenant in the terminal," she said.

In addition to a Tim Hortons, the terminal contains a Grab and Go food kiosk that offers pizza, wraps, beverages and snacks. Both are open 24 hours a day.

Justin Rorick said he was delayed both ways, to and from Florida. On his way down, he spent seven hours waiting in North Carolina, seven hours in Jacksonville and was told it would be another 15 hours in Tallahassee while they waited for a driver to be taxied in from another state. Rorick opted to pay $300 for a car to take him the rest of the way instead.

Reona Brumfield was trying to return to Syracuse after visiting Niagara Falls. She said she was on time and in line, but was turned away with a handful of others after being told her scheduled bus was full.

"The driver smirked at me and was very unprofessional. Very, very rude," Brumfield said. "If you work with people, you shouldn't have that kind of attitude."

Dave Roberts, who was trying to catch the same bus in his travels from Toronto to New York City, said the driver told him there were four buses coming right behind him that would take everyone where they needed to go.

"Yeah. That was not the case," Roberts said grimly.

Passengers in Virginia were stranded for several hours Friday. There were plenty of buses at the terminal, but no drivers. Greyhound said some drivers had called in sick and it had to bring in others to replace them.

But some of the worst accounts involved travel through Cleveland.

"Customers were being polite, just asking questions because no one was telling us anything and the information wasn't changed on the board," Sutton said. "They were yelling at us, 'The buses will get here when they get here, sit down and wait.' It was like, sit down and shut up."

Christopher Palecek was delayed several hours by the time he boarded his bus from Cleveland headed for Springfield, Mass., on Saturday. He said the bus driver told passengers there wouldn't be time to make rest stops in Erie, Pa., because he was only stopping to pick up more passengers. While they were stopped, he and another passenger stepped just outside the bus to stretch their legs and have a cigarette. He said they got back on well before the driver was done loading the new passengers and their luggage onto the bus.

"He walked back to us and said, 'Come on. Off the bus. I don't like it when adults don't listen to me,'" Palacek said, with other passengers confirming his story. "The female passenger who got kicked off at the same time was scared, crying. The guy in the station was yelling at her through the window to shut up."

The driver wouldn't let him retrieve his bag from the luggage hold, so Palecek spent $130 on an Uber ride to meet his baggage in Buffalo. He   found it sitting in the parking lot, he said. And because of the extra expense, he said, he had just 50 cents to last him the rest of his journey.

However, passengers said two workers at the Buffalo terminal were the most compassionate and helpful of everyone they encountered on their trip. Still, they described dismal conditions.

Greyhound didn't answer questions, they said. Employees insisted buses wouldn't be delayed and didn't announce delays even after departure times came and went with no bus in sight. Nowhere in their travels were passengers offered refunds or vouchers. In fact, the Buffalo terminal tried to charge them each $20 to transfer their tickets to a later departure time, but eventually waived the fee when customers became angry.

A Greyhound spokeswoman said the company is "looking into the allegations" of poor customer service, but doesn't have any complaints on file. She said workers at the terminals should have provided customers with complaint forms.

"We're working diligently to accommodate all of our customers and get them to their destinations safely and as soon as possible," said Lanesha Gipson, the Greyhound spokeswoman.

The company has experienced delays because of increased holiday demand and inclement weather, she said. The company assesses re-booking fees and delay compensation on a case-by-case basis.

"Because we have no control over the weather, we do our best to accommodate customers until we can get them back on the road," she said.

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