End of the Line After almost a century of serving rural America, Greyhound is cutting its ties to thousands of longtime riders. That should make the business more efficient, but life just got more lonely in struggling towns out West.
By Kate Bonamici

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The six daily buses that brought a welcome stream of diners to the Branding Iron Cafe in tiny Toppenish, Wash., won't be stopping anymore. Neither will the buses at 268 other locations in 17 Western states Greyhound serves. The last-resort provider of transportation for many residents of small-town America is sizing down. Even with state and federal subsidies, Greyhound lost $111.5 million in 2002 and $28.9 million last year. With fuel prices rising and travelers staying home, the 90-year-old carrier is overhauling its network to reduce expenses and make its routes flow faster.

Add Greyhound to the list of companies with household names, from AT&T to Delta Airlines and Sears, that are struggling to adapt as the economy evolves. Ridership has fallen 40% since 1980 as cars, low-fare airlines, and regional bus lines have siphoned off travelers. Cutting underused stops--Greyhound says half didn't generate any paying passengers at all last year--is an obvious step. Local carriers will take up some of the slack. Rimrock Stages, for example, is grabbing every abandoned stop in Montana and parts of Idaho.

Still, modern market forces, while they may be efficient, aren't kind: Greyhound's pullback leaves big holes in the frayed network of rural mass transportation. There is no more service for a 75-year-old in Ritzville, Wash. (pop. 1,700), who has just given up driving, or in Walla Walla, Wash., where convicts newly released from the state penitentiary used to catch the 3:30 A.M. bus for a ride home. We spent a week on the road at stops about to be eliminated with the people who--for reasons of age, income, health, or just preference--liked to leave the driving to Greyhound.

STRANDED After breaking down en route from New Mexico and selling his car for $30, Gary Lux waits for one of the last buses out of Grand Island, Neb. "They told me the bus don't stop here anymore."

BAGGAGE CHECK On a trip to Minneapolis from South Dakota, a wary rider keeps an eye on his luggage at a stop in Minnesota. No baggage handlers here: Passengers have to watch their gear when the bays are open to ensure that it isn't misplaced--or picked up by another traveler.

PIT STOP Riders stretch their legs and grab a smoke after a bus pulls off the road in rural Wyoming. Service changes have cut 14 million miles from Greyhound's annual schedule.

STUCK ALONE Right: Elva Link, 70, depended on Greyhound for her thrice-monthly trips from Ritzville to Spokane, where she visited family and went to the doctor.

Below: This bus trip will be the last for Vernon Weber (far left) and his wife because they won't use the main Seattle depot--"it's just awful"--now that their home stop has closed.

BLEAK FORECAST Above: No more buses will be stopping in York, Neb. Right: A Greyhound driver, who asked not to be named, gripes as he heads south on a last trip to Bend, Ore.