Atlantic Cities

Why Drug Traffickers Love Buses

Why Drug Traffickers Love Buses
REUTERS

On Monday night, police in Burlington, Vermont, met a Megabus arriving from New York and arrested one of the passengers for possession of 30 grams of cocaine (worth between $1,800 and $2,400). It's the fifth drug bust Burlington police have conducted at the University of Vermont's Megabus stop in the last eight months.

This isn't evidence of a Megabus problem. It's evidence that buses are very popular among traffickers.

Imagine you've been asked (or offered!) to take drugs from one state to another. How would you do it? Flying would be your absolute worst option. You'd have to keep your cool while going through passenger screening, and pray that your checked cargo (which has all your identifying information attached to it) doesn't pique the curiosity of luggage screeners. And if your luggage gets lost between Hartsfield-Jackson and O'Hare? There's no easy answer, I'm afraid. Probably best to kiss your sleeping children goodbye and run for the border.

What about Amtrak? You handle your own luggage, which means it won't get screened and it won't leave your sight. While TSA agents now haunt some stations, they don't subject passengers to searches. But it's still a formalized mode of transportation. Amtrak takes a lot of information from passengers, even if they pay for their ticket with cash. There are also dogs in some stations. They probably sniff only for bombs, not drugs, but do you really know for sure?

"I could drive myself!" You could absolutely do this. No tickets, no checked bags, no drug dogs ... unless you get pulled over. Then yes, there could very well be drug dogs. But even if there are no drugs dogs, are you prepared for the flop-sweat that comes with having a state trooper tail you, and the half-gallon Mason jar full of Big Buddha Cheese tucked under the spare tire in your trunk, on the Interstate for six miles? What about your tags: are they current? Your insurance? Better check those brake lights before you embark! Ultimately, driving yourself requires you to play it really cool. Can you? It's a very precarious way to find out.

Which brings us to the bus! The bus poses none of these problems. Tickets are cheap and you can buy them with cash without telling the bus company too much about yourself. Companies like Bolt Bus even allow passengers to buy tickets with cash from the bus driver. When you board, there's no system to make sure you are who you say you are, and other passengers don't really care either. Maybe your luggage ends up under the bus, but you put it there yourself. Basically, you can stash your stash and then take a snooze. 

Drug smugglers know this, which is why they love buses. Drug cops also know this, but can't do much about it. With a bus line's permission, cops are allowed to board buses and "talk" to passengers. They can even dress like slobs and prowl bus stations hunting people "who look nervous or hold on too tightly to luggage." But ultimately, America's bus system is far too anonymous and far too casual to police like an airport or train station.

So how did the Burlington police make their man? A "tip," which probably means a confidential informant or undercover cop in New York helped set the guy up. That's how Alabama cops broke up a coke trafficking operation that ran from Houston to Mobile via Greyhound, and how Kentucky cops busted a heroin-Oxy smuggling ring that moved drugs from Ashland to Detroit (also via Greyhound). The lesson? The only truly safe way to traffic drugs is to not traffic drugs at all.

Top image: A passenger at the Port Authority in New York. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters) 

Mike Riggs is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

Join the Discussion