The Central Ohio Transit Authority Terminal is marked by a sturdy red overhang. Large garage doors raise frequently as buses arrive, briefly inviting the sounds of downtown Columbus inside. On a narrow platform in the center of the space, bus riders like Miles Taylor mill around – some for minutes, others for hours – waiting for their buses.
“The driver had us leave the bus because ‘We're not allowed to idle the buses,’ but it just resulted in a mass of people standing around in the middle of the bus terminal,” Taylor said in an email. “What else are people supposed to do?”
In April 2022, the Columbus Greyhound Station closed. Buses and passengers served by the station – once the in Ohio – were forced to relocate. As part of an agreement with COTA, intercity bus providers began to utilize the local COTA terminal, 25 East Rich St., as their Columbus stop.
But the process to make that change was not straightforward; closing the Greyhound Station and moving its services to the downtown COTA Terminal was muddled by a lack of communication among city agencies and between transportation services. Now, plans for the site of the former Greyhound Station remain uncertain, leaving passengers and residents unclear about the area's transportation future.
Two city agencies publicly took interest in the Greyhound Station during the summer of 2021. COTA was pursuing the potential to purchase the property from Greyhound to redevelop it. The City Attorney’s office was building a case against the station, which, it argued, was a hub of crime.
However, each agency said it was relatively unaware of the other’s involvement with the site.
Since 2019, Greyhound had been in conversation with COTA about partnering to provide an alternate operating location for Greyhound at one of COTA’s existing facilities. The two bus providers explored options and confirmed details of the partnership throughout the following years.
“Through that process, it became apparent that Greyhound was considering the sale of their downtown property,” said Andy Biesterveld, COTA’s Chief Engineer and Mechanical Officer.
Interested in the size and location of the Greyhound Station, COTA negotiated a purchase agreement in which they would be the sole potential buyer of the station.
“We really viewed that as a unique opportunity to acquire a parcel of that size with that proximity downtown,” Biesterveld said. “We viewed it as something that was also rare enough that we needed quick action to secure that property while we had the opportunity.”
The purchase agreement was nearly finalized when Biesterveld and COTA learned about the city’s case against the Greyhound property.
On June 17, 2021, the Columbus City Attorney filed a complaint in the Franklin County Municipal Court. The filing claimed that the Greyhound Station was a “public nuisance,” citing the number of calls made to police about incidents at the property.
Assistant City Attorney Heidy Carr said she often collaborates with agencies throughout the city, including Columbus Police, Fire, and Code Enforcement, with the goals of reducing crime and bettering the quality of life for people in Columbus. “We're everywhere,” Carr said.
Yet, Carr also said that she was unaware of COTA’s negotiations with Greyhound until after she filed the case. In a meeting of downtown property owners, Carr was discussing the city’s filing when a developer told her that COTA was in talks to buy the Greyhound property.
“I immediately reached out to COTA, and I let them know about the filing,” Carr said.
Slightly more than a month later, COTA announced that its board of trustees approved the purchase of the Greyhound property.
The city’s lawsuit claimed that the Columbus Greyhound Station, 111 East Town St., was a public nuisance that maintained conditions “threaten(ing) the health, safety and welfare of the People of the City of Columbus.”
Referencing the number of police runs for service to the station – more than 300 between Jan.1 and June 9, 2021, according to – the city built its case.
Most of the incidents referred to in the City Attorney’s complaint are “regarding a person with a gun or knife on the Premises.”
During that same six-month period, 70 police reports were taken at the Columbus Greyhound Station, according to public records obtained from the Columbus Police Department, indicating that the majority of police runs to the station did not result in a report. Like the city outlined in its lawsuit, a majority of the reports detail conflict, weapons or theft. However, at least 15 of the 70 reports relate to people in crisis, unhoused people, and people requiring social services at the Greyhound Station.
On Jan. 30, Columbus Police responded to the station where a man was experiencing a mental health crisis and a substance use disorder.
“Victim stated he had given up and wanted help,” the said. “Victim was transported to Netcare.”
On Feb. 24, a Greyhound manager expressed concerns about unhoused people sleeping at the station, and “requested to have periodic walkthroughs, and furthermore requested minority officers, if possible,” according to the .
A month later, on , Columbus Police transported a person from the Greyhound Station to the “engagement center,” presumably the Engagement Center at Maryhaven, which provides services for people experiencing houselessness.
Greyhound’s attorneys addressed the range of reasons for police calls for service to the station in their response to the city’s preliminary injunction.
“The City's lawsuit comes after Greyhound reached out to the City earlier this year for help addressing the impact COVID-19 and the resulting closure of nearby homeless shelters were having on Greyhound's business,” Greyhound’s read. “Greyhound is sympathetic to the rising number of displaced and homeless citizens, some of whom have looked to the area around the Greyhound Facility as a place of refuge. But casting blame on Greyhound and interfering with its necessary transportation services is wholly improper.”
The City Attorney’s asked that if the “nuisance” conditions at the station did not get resolved, “on final judgment, the Chief of Police of Columbus, Ohio, be ordered to … effectually close the entire premises” for one year.
City Attorney v. Greyhound Lines did not go to trial and the station was able to remain open. The two parties agreed on conditions and stipulations on July 1, 2021. Soon after, the Greyhound Station began making the changes outlined in the agreement: hiring two security officers, fixing broken windows on the property, covering exterior outlets and more.
As the City Attorney’s office and Greyhound representatives were working out the lawsuit, COTA was continuing with its plans to purchase the Greyhound property and eventually close it down. Though, the legal action did cause COTA to shift some of its plans.
COTA closed on the purchase of the Greyhound property on Dec. 17, 2021, for $9,436,000.
But it did not make Greyhound vacate the station immediately. Instead, COTA leased the station back to Greyhound for a one-time rent payment of $100 on the first day of the term, according to the Transit Authority. While occupying the station, Greyhound was also expected to pay for all operating expenses, costs and taxes.
The lease was intended to last for a year, COTA’s Chief Engineer Andy Biesterveld said. The City Attorney’s lawsuit against Greyhound caused COTA to shorten the length of time which Greyhound could continue to lease the property to four months.
“Since that nuisance filing, what that did was spur us to minimize the amount of time that COTA would own the property and Greyhound would continue to operate there,” Biesterveld said.
On April 1, 2022, the Greyhound Station closed, and its operations moved to the downtown COTA Terminal eight months earlier than originally planned.
Biesterveld said the earlier move did not have an impact on COTA’s operations out of the downtown terminal.
“Our service continues at the terminal as it was prior to Greyhound moving in there,” Biesterveld said.
Greyhound buses were not the only ones to make the move from the bus station to the COTA Terminal. GoBus, Miller’s Transportation and Baron’s Buses – other intercity bus providers – also moved their Columbus stops to the COTA Terminal at the same time as Greyhound.
Claudia Bashaw is the GoBus Coordinator, a role that entails leading the GoBus staff and handling the service’s finances and other logistics. As a representative of a third-party service that utilized the Greyhound Station, Bashaw found herself receiving limited information about the specifics about the Greyhound Station closure and plans to move to the terminal.
“The only frustrating part was really trying to anticipate when was that terminal actually going to close?” Bashaw said. “And then what were the steps? Where were we actually going? How early in this process could we access that new stop location? How is this going to alter schedules? Those sorts of things were up in the air until more or less the last minute.”
But Bashaw saw value in the move for GoBus passengers.
“We don't officially partner with [COTA], but we certainly help folks use them as that first and last mile to get to us and other intercity bus services,” Bashaw said.
The merging of COTA and intercity bus service into one terminal presents the potential to make connecting passengers with the two easier.
“Greyhound has found co-locating with other transportation providers in intermodal-style stations like COTA across its network helps ease access to multiple modes of transportation for its customers,” Crystal Booker, Senior Communications Specialist for Greyhound, wrote in an email.
Miles Taylor, transit advocate and urban planning graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, traveled through the Columbus Greyhound Station twice before it closed.
“It was a pretty miserable place (austere design, uncomfortable seats, gross bathrooms), but it had amenities like a Greyhound restaurant, plenty of space to sit, and outlets,” Taylor wrote in an email.
Those amenities are not all present at the COTA terminal at which Greyhound presently operates.
Greyhound’s move to the COTA Terminal has caused some challenges for customers. Folding signs with words including “North/South” and “Detroit/Charleston” are lined up on the side of the terminal through which intercity buses travel, meant to provide riders with some idea of where their bus might pull up. When several buses arrive at similar times, the onboarding and offboarding of passengers occurs relatively simultaneously. Crowds of people mix and the terminal grows noisy.
“I remember how haphazard it was having a Greyhound bus stop in what was seemingly designed to be a local bus terminal,” Taylor said. “You ended up with a ton of people on some pretty narrow platforms with not enough seating, and it was just chaos. It wasn't a facility designed to handle the amount of seating and large crowds at one time that you get from intercity buses.”
GoBus Coordinator Claudia Bashaw heard similar complaints from GoBus riders, who used to utilize the Greyhound Station, but have since moved to the COTA Terminal as well.
“With that kind of closure where you have this facility that offers indoor seating and a ticket agent, and then moving to a smaller space, there's been some growing pains,” Bashaw said.
COTA will continue to coordinate with Greyhound and other intercity bus providers to allow them to use the terminal space for the foreseeable future.
The City Attorney’s Office is also remaining involved. During the last week of July, COTA met with the City Attorney’s Office and determined COTA would hire additional security for the downtown terminal.
“The last thing I want is for everything to be repeated in the new location,” Assistant City Attorney Heidy Carr said.
With the 111 East Town St. property now in its possession, COTA is planning for its future use. The ultimate use of the site will depend on the Columbus Downtown Strategic Plan and the LinkUS initiative.
“That site would certainly have other uses,” COTA’s Chief Engineer Andy Biesterveld said. “The development would be consistent with what the highest and best use of that location is and transit would only be one part of the development.”
Determining long-term use of the site will take some time, COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin said, so COTA is working with the Downtown Development Corporation and Federal Transit Authority to determine the best interim use of the site.
The city transit agency purchased the former Greyhound Station with local funds, revenue coming from sales tax and bus fares, to allow more flexibility in what COTA decides to do with the site.
“If the planning does not show that the Greyhound property is a good location for [a large mixed-use development], part of the logic for COTA acquiring the property is that we feel it is highly marketable and highly sought after by the development community,” Biesterveld said. “Because we used local funds … we are free to then sell or liquidate that asset if it does not make sense for COTA.”
In the meantime, intercity bus riders will continue to arrive in Columbus at the downtown COTA Terminal, rolling under the rattling garage doors into the crowded transit hub.