When Jessi Berkelhammer rolled home to Pittsburgh on the Greyhound bus a couple of weeks ago, it was "downpouring at five in the morning, and it was pitch black."
Berkelhammer and her boyfriend, both of Friendship, had attended a wedding in Providence, R.I., and caught the overnight bus from New York City. Most of the New York-Pittsburgh buses take 13 hours, Berkelhammer says, but the overnight is "a reasonable seven hours."
Berkelhammer arrived at 5 a.m. at the company's temporary terminal below Second Avenue, next to the County Jail. Its normal Downtown terminal, at Liberty Avenue and 11th Street, is currently being replaced, a project that may take two years.
At this hour, she figured, Port Authority transit hadn't started running yet (although some routes begin about then). And despite the daily arrival of several Greyhound buses at that hour, no cabs were on the scene.
Berkelhammer says she started asking fellow passengers if they could catch a ride home with them. When a cab arrived to drop someone off, Berkelhamer says, a police officer on the scene told the driver, "Send 10 more."
"The cop seemed to be aware that the situation wasn't reasonable," she says.
Also not to be found at the new location, Berkelhammer says, were jitneys - private, unlicensed car services that frequented the Greyhound terminal's old location. "Cabs won't go to certain neighborhoods," Berkelhammer says. Officially, Greyhound disallows jitneys at its terminal anyway. Whereas before, jitneys could use public streets next to the Greyhound terminal to cruise for passengers, they would now have to drive onto a private parking lot to seek customers.
Before Berkelhammer was able to secure a cab, the police officer "got mad at me for soliciting a ride," she says. "I said, 'I just want to get home.' He's like, 'And I want the Steelers to win!'"
Berkelhammer isn't the only passenger dealing with inconveniences at the new Greyhound terminal at Second Avenue.
The new location - between Downtown and the 10th Street Bridge - is easy to get to by car and, of course, by Greyhound bus. But, many passengers need to get to the station by foot or Port Authority, and for them, it's a different story. There are no signs to guide pedestrians to or from Downtown. Eventually, would-be passengers discover one of three routes:
walking a half-mile to circumnavigate a fenced-in parking lot;
ducking under a Second Avenue railing and scrabbling down a steep, littered dirt hillside; or
discovering the unlit Eliza Furnace bike trail - a.k.a. the Jail Trail -- between the terminal and the First Avenue T station, which here passes behind the county's big house.
While even locals have a hard time getting to and from the Greyhound, imagine being an out-of-town visitor. The South Side, one of Pittsburgh's most popular destinations, is the closest neighborhood to the terminal via a quick, scenic walk across the 10th Street Bridge. But how would anyone departing a Greyhound bus know the South Side is there?
"You'll meet these people from Europe on the bus with these Ameripasses," says Steve Donahue, a local transit activist who often leaves the driving to Greyhound. "They come to our beautiful city and see the jailhouse and freeways. I guess [city authorities and Greyhound] are relying on relatives to pick people up, but if you don't have relatives, gee, maybe you'll never come back to Pittsburgh."
True, says Pittsburgh Parking Authority head Dave Onorato -- Greyhound's current spot "is not as convenient ... but the key word is temporary."
Unfortunately, Greyhound's displacement is not that temporary. If construction proceeds with no delays, Greyhound could be back at its original, more central location on Liberty Avenue by early 2007. Many passengers interviewed at the terminal, however, think they are facing a three-year or even a six-year wait.
The Greyhound station has relocated to the jail because its old station was purchased by the city's Parking Authority. The Parking Authority is building a new 1,000-space garage on the lot, as well as a new bus terminal within the building, which Greyhound will lease form the Authority. The old station was built in 1959 and had all the fluorescent, institutional-green charm of that era's architecture.
Greyhound insisted on returning to its Liberty Avenue location, says Onorato (brother of county executive Dan), because "it's a great site for them and their customers." It's on a city street frequented by taxis and jitneys, and close to taxi stands at Downtown hotels. The Amtrak station and the first stop of the East Busway are across the street, and nearly every city bus line stops within a few blocks.
In contrast, a few buses run along Second Avenue, but they're relatively infrequent and serve just a few places.
Why stick the 'Hound in such a weird little alcove for the next two years? Simple: The Parking Authority owns it. It's part of Second Avenue Parking Plaza. It might have been nice to move the bus terminal next door to its old location, to open land in the Strip, but those lots are privately owned and would've added to the cost of the $35 million deal.
Greyhound corporate spokesperson Anna Folmnsbee says the carrier might be considering some improvements at the interim location, but declines to announce them.
A number of suggestions -- lighting the jail trail, posting signs to help pedestrians find the First Avenue T station, installing new steps on the dirt hillside by the 10th Street Bridge - met the same responses from the county and the bus company:
"It would all be up to Greyhound. It's their operation," says Onorato.
"It's a PPA [Parking Authority] facility. The big picture goes to the PPA," says Folmnsbee.
For many, adjusting to the new terminal is an inconvenience; for others, it's dangerous. When Steve Donahue was last there, he says, "Some lady got off the [PAT] bus there at the 10th Street Bridge, and tried to go down the hill. She started rolling down the hill and all her luggage with her."