Santa Barbara Greyhound station to close

The story was in the January 12, 2010 Santa Barbara News Press: “Greyhound On The Move.” Greyhound is closing its Santa Barbara terminal, and, at this point in time, doesn’t know where in Santa Barbara it will stop.

On a Greyhound enthusiast’s mailing list, a retired Greyhound employe  describes the Santa Barbara Greyhound station as a very busy place in the 1960s and 1970s. It was open twenty-four hours a day, and featured a Post House Restaurant (a sit-down diner), which was also open around the clock. There were plenty of spare buses and drivers stationed at the terminal, as ridership from Santa Barbara was so high that additional service was frequently needed. And there were so many buses laying over at night that they often had to park in the street.

When I was at UC Santa Barbara (1983-1987), the Greyhound station was still a busy place. It was *the* way for us carless students to get home, other than the ride board or having our parents come pick us up. (Most of us reserved that last choice for the beginning and end of the school quarter, when we had to move all our stuff in/out of the dorms.)

I, and many of my fellow students would catch the SBMTD bus (preferably the express #24, but usually the slower #11 local) from campus to the downtown transit center, then walk over to Greyhound (right next door) and catch a bus for home (in my case, Los Angeles, where I would either catch a bus to the San Gabriel Valley or be picked up.)

I don’t recall the station being open 24/7, but I rarely hung around Downtown much later than the last SBMTD bus (10:30 pm) anyway.

The Post House had been replaced with a Burger King (also owned by Greyhound), then the space was left vacant for a long time. Passengers wanting a snack break had to walk over to the gas station across the street. (In rmore ecent years a convenience store occupied the space.)

There were lots of trips (around 20 round trips per day) between LA and Santa Barbara. About half of these continued north to San Luis Obispo and the Bay Area.

There were also quite a few non-stop runs between LA and Santa Barbara, covering the trip in two hours, about the same as driving. Other trips took the scenic route along Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu. PCH trips stopped in Santa Monica, then continued to LA. Sometimes, I’d ride to Santa Monica, have lunch there, and then take the Santa Monica Blue Bus #10 to LA.

And fellow riders were nice. They were mostly students and retirees, along with the occasional family. No bums or “I just got out of jail” scary types. Maybe Greyhounds though the Central Valley had that crowd, but not on the coast.

There were a few low points, though. The downtown terminal in LA was ok, not a place any normal person would want to hang around in more than necessary, but ok. But the neighborhood it was in was Skid Row. Leaving the terminal, I had two choices: get tough or get rich enough to afford another Greyhound ticket to someplace decent, like Claremont. (Some trips stopped in Glendale, so I often used that station instead.) If we arrived during daylight hours, I’d power-walk the 7-8 blocks north to Figueroa, where I could catch an RTD commuter bus to the San Gabriel Valley. At night, I’d pony up the five bucks for a ticket to Claremont.

Also, Greyhound permitted smoking on the bus. (“Cigarettes only, no cigars, no pipes and please no marijuana!”) Smoking was not permitted in certain counties, such as Los Angeles County. On trips to Santa Barbara, the driver would announce when we had left LA County and people could light up. People would have their cigarettes and matches out, just waiting for that “Ventura County” roadside sign….On trips to LA, the driver was supposed to announce when we entered LA County, and smoking would no longer be permitted. However, sometimes the driver forgot (especially on nonstop trips) and people would be smoking all the way into LA.

Smoking was restricted to the back three rows of seats, but just like on an airplane, that smoke got all over the place. I’d step off the bus, and people would think I had been smoking.

Eventually, Greyhound declared all of its buses smoke-free. Thank God! (And Greyhound 🙂

I think what hurt Greyhound service in Santa Barbara includes the following:

1. Amtrak. When I was in Santa Barbara, the only Amtrak service was the Coast Starlight. It was expensive ($25 one-way to Greyhound’s $15), required reservations, and was known to run very late at times.

Another issue was the location of the Santa Barbara Amtrak station. Not only was it located several blocks from the center of Santa Barbara, but it was also on the “wrong side” of US-101. This freeway was actually a surface street through much of Santa Barbara, due to city opposition to freeway construction. It could take up to twenty minutes for State Street traffic to get a green light and cross US-101. (Eventually Caltrans built an underpass, which opened in 1991)

The Santa Barbara Amtrak station was also in poor condition, and the surrounding area was a huge homeless encampment.

A few years after I had left UCSB, Amtrak (with the help of the State of California) extended certain LA-San Diego trains northward to Santa Barbara. The station was repaired and cleaned up, and the homeless were encouraged to move elsewhere.

In later years, additional stations opened in Goleta (near the UCSB campus) and Carpinteria, providing more travel choices. Amtrak’s fares, while still higher than Greyhound’s, aren’t onerously so. Union Station in Downtown LA is much nicer than the Greyhound station. It offers more travel connections (Amtrak, Metrolink, Metro Rail, and city buses of various stripes) than the Greyhound station does.

Besides, [railfan mode on] It’s A Train, Not A Bus! [railfan mode off]

2. Santa Barbara Airbus. This company started off running van shuttles between Goleta/Santa Barbara/Carpinteria and LAX. As ridership increased, Airbus upgraded its equipment to cutaways, then to full-size coaches.

While it was possible to get to LAX using Greyhound (a LAX shuttle bus had a dedicated stall in the LA Greyhound station), the Santa Barbara Airbus was faster and did not require a change of buses.

3. Commuter Buses. Housing in Santa Barbara started to get expensive in the 1980s, leading many people to buy homes in Lompoc, Buellton, Santa Maria or Ventura, and commute to their jobs in Santa Barbara. Most of these people drove, while a few car- or vanpooled. But a few might have used, or at least considered using, Greyhound to get between these outlying areas and Santa Barbara.

Instead, the Santa Barbara Air Quality District set up a commuter bus system, with routes to Lompoc, Santa Maria and Ventura, in the early 1990’s. This system was named “Clean Air Express“, and still exists to this day. Clean Air Express buses are scheduled to meet workplace schedules in Santa Barbara, something Greyhound, to my knowledge, never attempted.

4. Changing Demographics. The Santa Barbara of the 60’s, 70’s, and even the early 80’s was a more down-to-earth sort of place. Bike paths crisscrossed the UCSB campus. UCSB students were proud to not have their campus covered with parking structures, unlike UCLA, Cal (Berkeley), etc.

The increasing cost of housing and living in Santa Barbara meant that most people moving to Santa Barbara in recent years were “money people,” not particularly interested in using Greyhound service. This affected UCSB too; rising tuition costs brought in a crop of more affluent students. Most of these students owned cars, and demanded more parking on campus.

5. Greyhound itself. Greyhound used to be considered a normal, if slightly lower-to-middle class, way to travel. The advent of cheap air flights (Southwest, et. al.) took away most of that ridership, leaving Greyhound with increasingly down-market customers. The rundown condition and skid-row location of many Greyhound terminals (not Santa Barbara, but places such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, other large cities like New York, etc.) didn’t help any. Neither did the strikes in 1983 and 1991.

At first Greyhound tried to compete with the airlines. I remember a full-page ad in the LA Times comparing Greyhound fares and airfares between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The ad even had pictures of bus and plane seats!

Finally, Greyhound just started cutting service and dropping stations left and right, making it more inconvenient to use the bus. On the LA -Santa Barbara route, Greyhound dropped service to Ventura, Camarillo, and Thousand Oaks along US101. The non-stops were cancelled, as was the entire PCH route through Malibu and Santa Monica.

I am currently planning a trip to Santa Barbara. Most likely I’ll drive, or perhaps take Amtrak. But just for yuks, I went to the Greyhound website and looked at the current schedule.

Five-count ’em-five trips each way. None of them were particularly convenient, or worth the hassle of getting to the LA Greyhound station.

On the bright side, the price (about $13 one way) is actually a bit lower than what I paid in my UCSB days ($15).

In my opinion, it would be a mistake to move Greyhound from where it is now. It may be very difficult to find a replacement spot near the freeway. Real estate in Santa Barbara is very expensive, and the local NIMBY’s in some areas would violently opposed a Greyhound station in their neighborhood.

The City of Santa Barbara has talked about remodeling the Transit Center for several years, as part of a transit oriented development plan. Currently, some SBMTD buses load and unload on Chapala Street, as there is no room for them in the Transit Center loop.

It is not clear what part, if any, Greyhound will have in such a development.

5 Comments to "Santa Barbara Greyhound station to close"

  1. cph's Gravatar cph
    October 9, 2011 - 8:20 pm | Permalink

    UDPATE: It looks like Greyhound may relocate after all. To where, I don’t know. Greyhound’s relocation is mentioned in an SBMTD board committee agenda but there is no indication of a future location. Searching the News Press website proved fruitless as well. Anyone out there know what’s going on?

  2. cph's Gravatar cph
    October 13, 2011 - 10:08 am | Permalink

    UPDATE: Santa Barbara’s Greyhound station will be moving to a building near the Amtrak station sometime in late 2011/early 2012:

  3. Cph's Gravatar Cph
    March 15, 2012 - 11:01 am | Permalink
  4. cph's Gravatar cph
    March 5, 2017 - 7:46 am | Permalink

    Station building to be demolished and new buildings built on site.

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