Greyhound Lines Inc. said yesterday that it will close almost one-third of its terminals this year and plans to discontinue many routes nationwide as part of a major restructuring of the nation's largest bus system.
The financially troubled company announced that 35 of its 125 terminals -- including those in Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk -- will be closed by Oct. 1. Although Phoenix-based Greyhound intends to stop operating costly terminals, the company said it will continue to offer service for the near future in the affected areas by using independent agents to sell tickets.
Greyhound will make $100 million to $150 million by selling the terminal properties, whose values have soared along with other real estate, the company predicted.
The terminal closings are part of a retrenchment program that Greyhound began last August. "It reflects a continuing effort by [Greyhound Corp.] to reduce assets in the bus company where it really is not making an adequate return on its investment," said Jack L. Kelly, an analyst with Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Greyhound spokesman Herb Doherty said that he does not know how many bus routes eventually will be discontinued, but predicted the cutbacks will affect most regions of the country.
"I don't have specific numbers," Doherty said. "But we're considering routes that don't make money for us in New England, the Midwest, the Great Lakes area, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and the West."
In cities where the Greyhound terminal is to close, independent agents will sell Greyhound tickets out of smaller locations in the suburbs or near interstate highways.
The terminals set for closing include Albany, Binghamton and Syracuse, N.Y.; Harrisburg, Scranton, and Erie, Pa.; Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Augusta, Ga.; Charleston and Greenville, S.C.; Evansville, Ind.; Daytona Beach and Miami, Fla.; New Orleans; Kansas City, Springfield, and Joplin, Mo.; Madison, Wis.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Rockford, Ill.; Long Beach, Redding, Stockton, Redwood City and Vallejo, Calif.; Olympia, Spokane and Tacoma, Wash., and Tucson.
Since last summer, Greyhound has laid off or offered early retirement to about 400 management employes and about 1,000 unionized rank-and-file employes. Greyhound's total work force is now about 11,800, of which approximately 10,000 are union members.
An additional 350 employes will be affected by the terminal closings, according to the company. Greyhound President Fred Dunikoski said earlier this month that the company probably will eliminate 1,500 to 2,000 jobs by the end of the year, reducing its work force to fewer than 10,000 employes.
Greyhound's economic problems reflect the radical change in transportation systems in the last two decades. Low-cost airline fares have cut into intercity bus business, and more people drive their own cars than 20 years ago, according to industry analysts.
"Either use it or lose it," quipped Jack Smith, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce in Roanoke, which will lose its terminal under Greyhound's plan.
Greyhound buses carried 64 million passengers a year in the late 1960s, but the company expects to serve only 34 million this year.
Greyhound Corp., which also produces consumer products and sells food, financial and other services, does not break out the earnings of its subsidiaries. But analysts say Greyhound Lines has been losing money for years. "It's a loser because nobody takes a bus unless they have to," said Katherine M. Stults, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.
But bus stations have turned into gold mines for the nation's bus companies in recent years. Many terminals built three or four decades ago now are surrounded by new office buildings; real estate developers eager to build more offices are snapping up station properties, often for many times more than the original purchase prices.
Local officials reacted to yesterday's announcement with surprise and questions about what will happen to local bus service.
"As much as anything else, it will be a prestige loss because we will not have a terminal of one of the major transportation carriers in the country," said Smith of the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm very surprised, even shocked," said James A. McComas, Richmond's director of economic development. "To my knowledge, Greyhound did not advise anyone in the city about this beforehand."
Greyhound's bus station in Richmond, now scheduled to be closed, is a modern facility just built a few years ago. Neither Richmond nor Greyhound officials knew yesterday what will be done with the new building.
"All I know is it was built to be a bus station," said McComas. "Maybe Trailways, also in Richmond, will have an interest in obtaining the bus station and providing service that Greyhound riders used to have."
In another development, Greyhound Lines announced yesterday that is is launching a new Arizona-based subsidiary -- Greyhound Travel Services Inc. -- to cater to the charter tour industry.
Charter bus tours is a better business, Greyhound officials say. "It's a growing business," said Doherty