Metal detectors and carry-on restrictions for Greyhound travel

2008-12-04

in Canada, Economics, Rants, Security, Travel

The policy of restrictive carry-on rules appears to be spreading from planes to Greyhound buses. Apparently, as of December 15th, passengers boarding them in Ottawa will be forced to put everything aside from “medication, baby formula and small handbags” in checked baggage. No matter that those rattling baggage holds are hostile territory for cameras, computers, and other delicate items. Likewise, no matter that the logic of security on intercity buses differs substantially from the logic for aircraft, as I have written about previously. The system has already been introduced in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg.

To summarize my earlier post:

  • With a plane under their control, hijackers can fly to distant states that might assist them. The only way to stop them is to shoot down the plane, killing everyone on board. Buses are comparatively easy to stop.
  • [S]omeone in control of an ordinary plane can kill a lot of people. They can certainly kill everyone on board. They can also kill many people on the ground. Similar risks do not exist in relation to buses.
  • [I]t isn’t clear that this strategy won’t simply displace any violence that was to occur to a different venue. If I want to harm a particular person, I can do so in a place other than a Greyhound bus. The same is true if I just want to hurt people at random.
  • If you are really determined to hurt people on a bus, you can get on at a rural stop, rather than a bus station with metal detectors

It seems that the best low-cost and relatively low-carbon form of intercity travel is about to be needlessly constrained. It remains to be seen whether Greyhound proves enduringly committed to the new procedures once customers start appreciating just how inconvenient and unnecessary they are.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon December 4, 2008 at 11:39 am

Um, without x-ray machines in addition to metal detectors, you need to ban basically everything: no phones, no iPods, no canes, no umbrellas, nothing that contains metal and could also conceal a weapon.

Also, there are plenty of weapons that aren’t made of metal: ceramic knives, wooden stakes, etc.

Of course, the company is sure to try and get taxpayers to help pay for this nonsense.

Sarah December 4, 2008 at 12:27 pm

If true, this is the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a very long time. I’m sure that the Greyhound people would be happy if the violence simply got displaced to other places, but this is such an utterly absurd restriction to impose on passengers that it would lose them a great deal of custom. No laptops or cameras – there goes a lot of the tourist market, plus any cheapass business folks or students with computers. Especially since checking laptops is a) against their baggage rules http://www.greyhound.ca/en/travel_information/baggage.shtml and b) the value exceeds their insurance policy for damaged luggage.
No food, drinks, ipods or reading material – there goes the market for any trip over an hour or so, cos it’s not as if one can reasonably take things in & out of the luggage when the bus stops (not without delaying the bus & encouraging theft from checked bags). I’ve taken Greyhounds to Whistler & Squamish regularly, & also to places like Victoria, Seattle and Yosemite, but I don’t think I would make any of those trips by greyhound with these kind of restrictions in place.

Milan December 4, 2008 at 1:25 pm

This is certainly a bad day for my transportation options.

Greyhound is clamping down, the Chaudière bridge from Ottawa to Gatineau has been shut down “until further notice,” and Ottawa’s public transit system may go on strike next Wednesday.

Having experienced the inconvenience of one Vancouver transit strike, I am far from keen on another – especially in the Ottawa cold, and when I have a pre-paid year-long bus pass.

Litty December 4, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Let’s just hope some psycho doesn’t kill a person on a train. Then we would have no way to travel in any kind of comfort or dignity.

Emily December 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I often keep my knives in my clutch.

This is pretty absurd.

I don’t think these restrictions are viable for the long-term if Greyhound wants to keep business up when fuel prices begin to rise again. Even if these rules exist in theory – I think it is ultimately up to the bus station and bus driver to enforce them.

Luckily 35% of the people who ride Greyhound are anti-social, or mentally imbalanced. They should make enough of a fuss for the people who more silently brood over the restrictions.

I think in reality Greyhound will minimize the amount of time they have to spend tending to their surly clientele. For now, I feel bad for the people who have to enforce these rules.

It’s also possible that ViaRail will jump on the opportunity to offer special deals to entice ex-Greyhound users. If there were more train-users more frequently, maybe we would see a drop in train prices over the long-term?

Padraic December 4, 2008 at 2:36 pm

If there is one thing I have learned from traveling 10,000+ km on Greyhound buses it is that they are completely incapable of consistently enforcing their policies company-wide. On paper, this truly is a draconian policy (are books allowed? can you bring your wallet on board? what does “everything” mean?) but I would be shocked if it is really enforced.

Milan December 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm

One (admittedly unlikely) possibility is this:

The whole point of imposing these restrictions is to show passengers how inappropriate, expensive, and unpleasant they are. Having demonstrated what it would be like to travel by bus in a ‘secure’ way, the company could withdraw the restrictions on the basis of protest from customers.

If they later stand accused of not doing enough for security, they can point to the short-lived experiment and say that they are doing all that is possible, given what their customers will accept.

Anonymous December 4, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Would people be allowed to bring change on board? If it was necessary for everyone to dig out their bags before and after every food / coffee / bathroom stop, the ride would get very long very quickly.

Maybe they only intend to use the metal detecting wands on shifty (read: ‘Muslim’) looking characters, refusing to let them on the bus if they do not comply.

Padraic December 4, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Milan, your backlash theory is definitely improbable, but it’s helped by the fact that these rules are starting right before the holiday rush – probably Greyhound’s busiest part of the year.

R.K. December 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm

This does seem likely to be an unpopular and ineffective policy, for the reasons people have outlined above.

Eliminating all sources of entertainment for people on long bus trips definitely doesn’t seem like the route to repeat customers or commercial success.

There will also be a lot of people showing up at these stations unaware of the new rules and with laptops in tow. Given that they could easily be damaged in the baggage hold and the insurance won’t cover them, at least a few will angrily abandon their voyages.

emily December 4, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The whole point of imposing these restrictions is to show passengers how inappropriate, expensive, and unpleasant they are.

I thought about that possibility as well. Though, I’m not sure that companies get themselves ‘off the hook’ by imposing unpleasant safety precautions and then ceding to popular demand for their removal.

Greyhound is in a tricky position. Though, it seems like the worst choice to follow. I wonder how liable Greyhound itself is for the safety of its passengers. It seems to me that they’re putting themselves in a position of greater liability by taking on the responsibility of de-weaponizing passengers.

Tristan December 5, 2008 at 7:51 am

Get a drivers license, you hippy!

emily December 5, 2008 at 10:40 am

Get a drivers license, you hippy!

I can’t tell if you’re talking to me, or to Milan.

:( , nonetheless.

Milan December 5, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Get a drivers license, you hippy!

Doing so would be terrifically inconvenient, given that I have access to neither a vehicle nor a licensed driver who would supervise me.

For the foreseeable future, I am destined to remain unlicensed.

Beep Dig Metal Detecting October 11, 2010 at 11:22 pm

That is ridiculous. I flew from Hawaii to Thailand via Taiwan with 3 metal detectors. No issue at any airport. I continue to fly in-country Thailand from Khon Kaen to Bangkok and no one bats an eye when i tell them I am carrying metal detectors. I also have quite an assortment of spare coils, batteries, chargers, headphones, and other electronic gizmos with me.

Punish the many for the sins of the few.

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