City tackles restrooms: but can't flush Trailways sign

Bus station bathrooms have never had a good reputation and usually are the kinds of places mothers don't want their children to go into alone. But if all goes well, scuzzy toilets will be a thing of the past at the local bus depot.

Plans are afoot for the City of Charlottesville to renovate the aging Greyhound-owned bus station on West Market Street and– in what it denies is an unusual turn for a government agency– to act as ticket agents for Greyhound.

"What we're doing is taking over the management of the local station," says city transit manager Helen Poore. "This is happening all over the country and has been done in Fredericksburg and Lynchburg."

So why is the city fixing up a corporate-owned building?

"There is no city money being funneled into this," insists Mike Mollica in facilities management. No city money indeed, but a $218,000 federal grant will be used to add three offices and a conference room on the front of the building, put in new ceilings and lights, paint, and install handicapped-accessible restrooms. "The restrooms there are pretty bad, pretty rough," he notes.

Poore says there's nothing weird about using public money to fix a private building. Locally, she notes, a $763,000 federal grant helped renovate developer Gabe Silverman's Amtrak station complex.

After the final agreement with Greyhound is signed in January, the plan is for Charlottesville Transit System's marketing employees to occupy the new offices in the bus station. Poore expects the city to recover the cost of the grant in savings on rent because those employees now work in leased space at the Downtown Visitors Center. And, as agent for Greyhound, the city will collect a percentage from each ticket sold.

Another advantage of the Greyhound deal, says Poore, is that the improved station will be a much more welcoming gateway for people coming into the city by bus. "The interior of the station will be more attractive for people who enter or leave the city using public transportation." And don't forget the new bathrooms.

Also, Poore mentions the trend toward something called a "multimodal" system, which means connecting from one form of public transportation to another– in this case, from a Greyhound bus to a city bus. "There will be the opportunity for joint marketing," she says.

Some cities have moved their bus stations out of the city center entirely. Poore doesn't believe that's a good idea. "It's important to continue to maintain it there [on West Main] to be available to the core ridership," she says.

One curiosity of the local bus station is the big Trailways sign out front even though Greyhound owns the terminal. "We own Carolina Trailways, a regional intercity bus company," says Greyhound spokeswoman Kim Plaskett. Still, she couldn't quite explain why a Trailways sign would still adorn the front of a Greyhound station.

Actually, the station once was a Trailways station. Sam Jessup started Virginia Stagelines Inc. in the early part of the 20th century, according to a former employee. That became part of National Trailways, and the franchise was sold, probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s, to Continental Trailways. Greyhound purchased Trailways in 1987.

Then why was the Trailways sign never removed?

That's something the bus company would like to remedy.

"We've asked them to take the sign down," says Mollica. "They say it has historic value and that people associate it with buses, that it's good advertising."