Chevron Greyhound station

The owner of this Chevron gas station on Trekell Road sought a zone change to allow the Greyhound bus terminal to be located on site. Greyhound has been loading and unloading passengers at the location since last July.It was denied.

CASA GRANDE — Greyhound got the boot in September.

It had been making five stops a day at a Chevron station at Trekell and Kortsen roads. But people complained. And Casa Grande’s Planning and Zoning Commission looked into it.

It was all about the zoning, and the gas station didn’t have it.

The City Council agreed. The Chevron station was no place for a bus terminal.

But this isn’t just a Greyhound story. It’s also about a regional bus system joined at the hip. It’s called CART, for Central Arizona Regional Transit. Its daily route included stops for the Greyhound.

CART funding, it happens, is tethered to the Greyhound. Without the Greyhound stop, CART stands to lose $160,000 in federal funding. It might not kill off CART. But it could deliver some pain.

“We’d have to reexamine our service, and probably cut back,” said Ernie Feliz, grants coordinator for the city of Coolidge.

Coolidge, it happens runs CART. Commuter buses run from Florence to Coolidge and Casa Grande. They make some half-dozen loops a day. A one-way ride is $2. County employees living in Casa Grande take the CART to Florence. Patients take it to Banner Casa Grande Medical Center. Students take the CART to Central Arizona College.

Until September, CART stopped at the Casa Grande Chevron station, dropping off passengers for the Greyhound. They could go onto Phoenix, Tucson and points beyond.

Here’s how the money fits in. Don’t yawn. This won’t take long.

CART’s federal dollars hinge — at least partly — on delivering riders to Greyhound. The money is tied to a grant for rural transportation. In particular to a section that deals with intercity bus service to two urban areas. In this case, Phoenix and Tucson. The buses have to carry baggage as well as passengers. And have regular stops.

Greyhound is not mentioned here. But, frankly, what else is there?

Coolidge noted its connection to Greyhound on Google Maps. The city’s transit center is marked as a Greyhound stop. The Greyhound didn’t actually swing by the transit center. But, of course, CART did. Routes were planned to deliver riders within an hour of scheduled Greyhound stops in Casa Grande.

CART riders could buy Greyhound tickets at the transit center. Others bought tickets online. Three or four got the news too late, said Transit Manager Michael Meyer. They showed up at the transit center with tickets for a bus that wasn’t coming. They’d have to go online for refunds.

One hopeful rider came to the ticket window and, asking about the Greyhound, said: “I’m supposed to pick up the bus here.”

He was out of luck.

Greyhound’s now just a passing blur on the interstate.

For years, Greyhound buses were a regular sight in Casa Grande. In 1957, the Wiles family started running a full-service bus depot. It was on East Second Street near downtown.

Linda Wiles helped her parents run the depot. It wasn’t just a gas station with a minimart.

“We had a lobby and games and pinball machines,” Wiles told me in 2014. “We had a restaurant and a barbershop.”

Wiles died in 2016.

Greyhound had been stopping at the Chevron station for about a year. In that time, complaints began coming into the city’s code enforcement office. Planning and Zoning staff followed up. The station would need a zoning change. How neighbors felt about that played a role.

The station is next to a small commercial plaza. Plaza owner Bob Davis said Greyhound travelers “made a nuisance of themselves.”

“They disturb our tenants … and loiter under trees,” Davis said in a November email to the city.

A children’s association in the plaza complained. So did the owner of nearby apartments. People, they said, asked to use the bathroom. They asked for water. And, of course, loitered.

An insurance agent said people did drugs in the alley. Apparently, they toked up while waiting to catch the bus.

That’s painting Greyhound riders with a pretty broad brush. Still, not a good look when you’re selling insurance.

There’s another side, of course.

Joe Kittelson now owns the Allstate agency at the plaza. He’s been there about three months. He hadn’t noticed a bus pulling up but one time, before the Greyhound stopped coming altogether. Nobody gave him or his business any trouble, he said.

It’s been decades since he rode a Greyhound himself. He flies now. But others depend on the bus, he said.

“If they had it, I’d support it,” Kittelson said.

The station’s operator, Benny Hong, questioned the complaints. He said riders could use the restroom at the station. And not that many passengers come and go, Hong added. An average of nine a day.

Hong’s lawyer, Philip Whitaker, spoke on his behalf, writing to city planner James Gagliardi.

Hong hired his own private investigator. The PI spent the better part of a day watching the bus stop. The comings and goings of passengers. He saw nobody loitering or bothering the trees.

Gagliardi handled the zoning case. He staked out the Greyhound stop as well. He didn’t note anybody behaving badly.

There are some perceptions at play. Greyhound riders are less well off. Some people equate that with less desirable. I’ve taken Greyhounds. It can be a tough crowd, sometimes. So, Greyhound stop? Not in my backyard.

Most riders, though, just want to get somewhere. On a budget. And the Greyhound out of Casa Grande did that. I imagine it took job seekers to Phoenix. Dropped off people visiting relatives in Casa Grande. Took veterans to Tucson for appointments at the VA hospital.

It carried veterans longing to see their families in places like Los Angeles, said Kim Vandenberg, director of the HOPH Veterans Center in Casa Grande.

“There are veterans who come into the area and they want to go home,” Vandenberg said.

They have little money or are homeless. The HOHP center would pick up their bus fare. They could board in Casa Grande. Now that’s not an option.

“If we lose the Greyhound,” Vandenberg said, “it will be a hardship to get them to Phoenix.”

Four years ago, Mike Smith rode the Greyhound out of Casa Grande. He went to East Texas, where he got a job selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Recently he rode the bus to Phoenix. He visited his father.

I spoke to Smith, 27, as he waited in the Coolidge Transit Center lobby. He was taking the CART to visit his mother in Casa Grande.

Visiting his father, of course, just got harder.

“If you’re going to Phoenix,” Smith said, “you’ll have to catch a ride.”

Greyhound could be back, perhaps soon. Casa Grande planners have some suggestions for a bus stop. Gagliardi said 24/7 Fitness might be a good fit. It’s on Trekell, not far from the Chevron station. Greyhound and 24/7 would have to sign off on it.

But here’s what the city likes. 24/7 has generous parking, so there’s room for a 40-foot bus. It has facilities. And it’s open 24 hours, something Greyhound requires. If that doesn’t pan out, one of a few Circle K’s might work as well.

Down the road, Coolidge officials are hopeful.

“I’m confident something will be worked out,” grants coordinator Feliz said on the phone.

I wondered aloud if he had his fingers crossed. He said he hadn’t. Just the same, it couldn’t hurt.

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Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.

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