Poverty Insights is a website that offers a very exceptional “Opinions” section, packed with thought-provoking editorials. One of the major contributors is Joel John Roberts, who used to live in Venice, California, and still writes about it.

As well as being the editor of Poverty Insights, David Henderson founded Idealistics Inc, “a social enterprise that builds web-based technologies that help social sector organizations help people better.” That sounds pretty good! Under his byline, we find such intriguing titles as “Bad Data, Bad Decisions — How Well Intentioned Organizations can Hurt the Poor” and “Poverty Goes on When the Holidays are Gone.”

Henderson wrote the post we’re looking at today, “Grey Hound Bus Wins War on Generosity.” He wanted to help somebody move to another town where the future might have better possibilities, so he went online to buy the person a bus ticket. That’s when he learned about the Gift Ticket Fee, which is only one ugly manifestation of a “corporate culture that kicks the crap out of poor people.”

Henderson reports,

When I went to purchase the ticket, I was astonished to read the following upon checkout, ‘An $18 US Gift Ticket Fee applies when the primary card holder is not traveling.’ The ticket I was purchasing was $36, meaning this $18 generosity fee was 50% of the value of the ticket!

He tweeted Greyhound about it, and received a reply indicating that the system is in place to protect the corporation from fraud. In Henderson’s eyes, the blatant fraud is being committed by Greyhound, given that…

… every other company in the country seems to have figured out how to handle credit card transactions without an $18 dollar fine.

Poverty Insights extended to the bus company an invitation to present its case as a guest blog on the Poverty Insights website, an opportunity which Greyhound has so far declined. But Dr. Mary McLaughlin shared her experience. She tried to buy a ticket for someone in another city and was told that it just plain could not be done over the phone with a credit card, because of the terrorism threat. After wasting a large part of the doctor’s day messing around on the phone, the company finally relented and electronically took her money, plus the Gift Ticket Fee, of course. But that wasn’t the end of it! McLaughlin says,

The disabled veteran was required to stand in line at the ticket counter over and over again as numerous questions arose that the ticket agent insisted must be answered only by me. The disabled veteran had to get out of line repeatedly, call me again and again, and then stand in line again and again. This process took all day, starting about 8:00 AM and ended only when the last bus of the day was just about to leave the station.

Getting back to David Henderson: Greyhound’s return tweet helpfully informed him that a ticket buyer can avoid incurring the Gift Ticket Fee by paying at the terminal. Only problem was, the person who needed the ticket was hundreds of miles away. Henderson was not about to show up at the ticket window. His and McLaughlin’s stories are so disgusting, I was inspired to send my own two cents’ worth to the Poverty Insights comment box:

Even being in the same city doesn’t help much. I called Greyhound to buy tickets on my credit card, so my visitors could go home. Greyhound gave me this advice: Avoid the extra charge by paying at the terminal. Problem is, the terminal is only open weekdays between 9 and 4. One option would be to make an extra trip ahead of time, downtown and back, via city bus. I’d already arranged with a neighbor for a ride in the middle of the night, so the passengers could catch their 2 AM bus, and didn’t want to ask for this too. Nor, with my guests here for only a couple of days, did we want to spend our limited time together shuttling around on city buses to procure the damn tickets. So I sucked it up and paid the extortionate Gift Ticket Fee.

The Greyhound bus is the last-resort mode of transport for people experiencing homelessness and other economically oppressed and underprivileged Americans. How else would anyone in the carless indigent class get around? But we don’t single out Greyhound as a company that is particularly harsh to the poor. On the contrary! The bus line is joined by money-transfer companies, credit card companies, telephone companies, and many others, in making it expensive to be poor. Helping a relative or friend in a crisis is a costly proposition, in which every contribution is penalized by a hefty Samaritan Tax. Corporate policy dictates that “No good deed goes unpunished.”


Source: “Grey Hound Bus Wins War on Generosity,” Poverty Insights, 02/22/11
Image by Mike McCaffrey, used under its Creative Commons license.