Any wheelchair user who has attempted to travel in the United States knows that accessible transportation options, especially between cities, can be very limited—and sometimes very expensive. Flying with a wheelchair is often draining and terrifying. Train routes are limited, slow, and bumpy. Wheelchair vans are very pricey, and many wheelchair users can’t drive themselves. Enter the option of a wheelchair accessible Greyhound bus.
I recently rode a Greyhound bus round-trip between Minneapolis, MN and Fargo, ND during a trip to visit my 50th state (North Dakota). I didn’t want to fly to Fargo from Orlando, FL (my home airport) because it involved a layover (more chances for my luggage to get lost, my chair to get damaged, or flights to get delayed) and no apparent accessible transportation options between the Fargo airport and my hotel.
So, I devised a trip that involved flying non-stop with Delta Skymiles from Orlando to Minneapolis, spending the night in a hotel close to the bus station, taking a 4.5-hour direct Greyhound bus ride the next morning to Fargo with only a few stops, and staying in a Fargo hotel only three blocks from the Fargo bus station. But before I dive into the details of my experience, let’s talk about how Greyhound works, as well as some of the pros and cons for wheelchair users.
All About the Greyhound Bus System
Founded in 1914, Greyhound Lines, Inc. is the largest provider of intercity bus transportation, serving 2,300 destinations across North America with a modern, environmentally friendly fleet. It has become an American icon, providing safe, enjoyable, and affordable travel to nearly 16 million passengers each year in the United States and Canada. In 2010, the company launched its premium city-to-city service, Greyhound Express, and has since quickly expanded the popular service to more than 135 markets across North America. It also operates Greyhound Connect, a service that connects rural communities to larger Greyhound markets in the United States.
In addition, Greyhound has interline partnerships with a number of independent bus lines across the United States. These bus companies provide complementary services to Greyhound Lines’ existing schedules and link to many of the smaller towns in Greyhound Lines’ national route system. Since July 2022 the Dallas-based entity Flix North America, Inc. (“Flix North America”) oversees operations for both Greyhound and FlixBus across North America.
Pros and Cons of Taking an Accessible Greyhound Bus
Like any other form of transportation available to the general public, taking a Greyhound bus comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons, with special attention given to how they may affect wheelchair users.
- You can save a lot of money. Taking a bus is definitely cheaper than using Amtrak or flying. Also, if you sign up for Greyhound rewards, you can save 10% on your ticket purchases made online, and if you reserve your ticket two weeks or more in advance then you could save up to 30%.
- You can go almost anywhere. Big cities and small towns alike have Greyhound bus stops, often in the center of town where it’s convenient to wheel to a hotel.
- You can see the country without having to drive. Of course, the scenery depends on where your bus route is, but you can definitely see parts of the US that you definitely wouldn’t be able to enjoy flying overhead.
- Your ticket is valid and flexible for up to 72 hours. If you are on a route from New Jersey to Miami and want to stop for a day or two in Philadelphia, you can do so as long as you board another Greyhound bus on the same route within 72 hours.
- Free Wi-Fi and charging ports. On newer Greyhound buses, which are usually on routes between large cities, you’ll have more room and free Wi-Fi and outlets for your electronics.
- Arriving on time is the exception rather than the rule. Greyhound buses are often late (sometimes extremely late) or canceled altogether due to a variety of factors, such as driver shortages or tardiness, mechanical problems, weather, etc. You will not be compensated for any of this. You need to have a back up plan for accessible transportation or accommodations if you get stranded somewhere for several hours or a day until you can catch the next bus to your destination.
- Baggage theft is a problem. There’s a limited amount of space for small bags on board the bus. All other suitcases go below the bus, and anyone can sneakily grab your bag at one of the bus stops. Greyhound states on their website that the security of your bags are your responsibility.
- The Wi-Fi and charging ports may not work.
- You’re not guaranteed a comfortable temperature on the bus.
- It’s a roll of the dice when it comes to the temperament and personality of your fellow passengers. Some of them may have been traveling hundreds of miles and gone for a few days without a shower. Or sleep. Or entertainment. Passengers aren’t screened like they are at airports, so the person sitting next to you could be a schoolteacher from Omaha on the way to see her grandkids or a junkie going through withdrawal from a bender the night before.
My Personal Experience on an Accessible Greyhound Bus
Not knowing at all what to expect, I arrived at the downtown Greyhound bus station in Minneapolis about 45 minutes before my bus was due to depart. It was inside a building underneath a highway overpass, it was dingy, and definitely not the most comforting space where I’ve ever waited for transportation.
I had my digital ticket in my Apple wallet, so I started looking around for somewhere to check in. I coulld only find one or two Greyhound employees at the station, and they seemed less than concerned with anything I might need. I soon realized that I only have to show my ticket once I’m getting ready to board and they would make an announcement about 15 minutes before the departure, if the bus was actually on time.
My bus departure time was at 10:45 AM, and at 10:30 AM they called for boarding. I was the first one to board, and as soon as I saw the bus, the first thing I thought was, I really hope the electric lift works or I’m in big trouble. The bus driver took a few minutes to move seats on the bus to make space for me at the top of the left. Fortunately, the lift worked just fine, and I was able to roll into my space about a third of the way back from the front of the bus. The bus driver was very effective in securing my chair to the floor of the bus using a Q’straint system, and securing me with a seatbelt.
I started looking around as the dozen or so other passengers boarded the bus. It looked relatively new, the Wi-Fi was working just fine, and the temperature on the bus was a very comfortable 72° if I had to guess. I wasn’t able to reach any of the power outlets from my chair, but I had brought a backup battery just in case I needed it for my phone.
Once we started driving, I realized that most of the bus would be empty for my 4 1/2 hour trip to Fargo, North Dakota. The few passengers were quiet and everybody entertained themselves on their phone, or with a book. The scenery was actually quite lovely, as we passed several farms and rolling hills, where fall colors were just starting to emerge.
We made a couple of very quick stops at gas stations to pick up and drop people off, and about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, we stopped at a gas station with a Subway for a 20-minute bathroom and a snack break. I didn’t need to use the bathroom, so I chose to stay on the bus. However, the bus driver did offer to get me a snack, and I did ask him to bring me back some Twizzlers.
Fortunately, we arrived in Fargo right on time. The bus stop is right in the middle of downtown and was only a three block roll from my hotel, which I chose because of the proximity to the bus station. The Fargo station is a transportation hub for local bus routes in addition to Greyhound, so it was very busy with people coming and going pretty regularly. However, it was clean and very bright.
Two days later, after my brief visit to Fargo, I was back at the bus station with the same concerns about a very late or canceled bus. I had my Plan B in place, thinking that in an emergency, I could take the Amtrak train back to Minneapolis in the middle of the night, or even a very short flight from Fargo to Minneapolis. Fortunately, none of those fears came to pass, and my bus back to Minneapolis arrived right on time. The boarding process was identical to the one in Minneapolis, the electric lift worked just fine, and my bus driver secured me well in my wheelchair space.
Tips for Making your Greyhound Bus Ride More Comfortable
Your needs may be different for longer bus rides, but there are always things you can do to make your greyhound bus experience more comfortable as a wheelchair user.
- Technically, the bus driver should know that they will be carrying a wheelchair user on their route. However, with last-minute changes, the message might not get to him or her. I would suggest contacting Greyhound at least 24 hours prior to your trip to remind them that you need a bus with a working electric lift and seats taken out in order to accommodate your wheelchair.
- Bring snacks and some water. The bus does make longer stops at a gas station or convenience store every two or three hours, and the driver will assist you in using the lift to get on and off the bus and wait for you to use the bathroom. However, if you want to save some money and eat what you want, just bring your own stuff.
- That being said, keep in mind that you cannot use the toilet on the bus so you may want to keep your food and liquid intake to a minimum if you’re on a longer bus ride.
- Bring some layers because the temperature on the bus can be unpredictable.
- Have entertainment downloaded on your electronic devices before your trip in case the Wi-Fi isn’t working. Also, bring it back a battery for your devices to charge in case the outlets are not working.
- Seats are not assigned, but as a wheelchair user, you generally should be the first one boarding the bus. Make sure you request this, especially if you’re traveling with a companion you want seated close to you.
- Not all Greyhound bus stations are equal. In bigger cities, they are generally located inside a climate controlled building or facility. However, stops in smaller towns are sometimes at a gas station or in a parking lot with no shelter, so be prepared for adverse weather.
How to Book a Wheelchair Space on an Accessible Greyhound Bus
Booking a wheelchair space on a Greyhound bus is fairly straightforward, and you can do it either from your computer or your phone. Just go to the Greyhound website and you will see the booking engine. Go to the passenger selection drop down menu and at the bottom you will see the option to add a wheelchair user who wants to stay in their wheelchair. This is how they know they need to take out seats on the bus for you.
The process is the same if you were booking a ticket on the Greyhound app.
From the Greyhound website:
If you have a disability, we’ll do everything we can to help you have a comfortable journey when you ride with Greyhound. While some disabilities and needs may be obvious to our employees, others are not and you may be served by several different representatives of Greyhound along the way. It is essential that you ask for assistance at each location where you need help, including each driver if you have different drivers for multiple legs of your trip.
If you are having trouble purchasing tickets electronically due to a disability, one of our Customer Service Representatives will be happy to help you by phone at 1-800-752-4841 and waive the standard convenience fee after confirming that your inability to book electronically is due to your disability. You may also email Greyhound if you are having problems due to your disability: [email protected].
My primary point is that not only is it possible to ride a Greyhound bus as a wheelchair user, but it’s easy. That being said, it’s not for everybody and it’s not an ideal arrangement. If you have to be somewhere on time, or if you can’t build flexibility into your schedule. In all honesty, I think I got pretty lucky with my bus trip, and it was probably more pleasant because it was interstate. I hear that local intrastate Greyhound bus trips can be less pleasant. If this is the only way you can afford to travel, then, make sure you have a back up plan in case your bus is canceled or extremely late. Both of these situations can be extremely uncomfortable for wheelchair users.