Two years ago, the bus industry was on the ropes. Airline competition from deregulation had made air fares so low that few felt inclined to leave the driving to bus lines.

But in 1988, the bus industry has seen a dramatic turnaround, and Utah is at the forefront of that growth, according to local bus officials.As a result, bus patrons in Utah are enjoying better facilities, less waiting and fewer transfers because of the greater number of buses arriving and departing from Salt Lake City.

Thomas Miceli, manager of Greyhound Bus Line's Salt Lake District, says in the past year ridership has increased nearly 40 percent for the Utah District, which stretches into Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Miceli said that trend appears to be continuing.

Miceli said the major benefits are improved customer services, such as better and newer buses and better facilities at bus terminals. Also, Miceli said, the number of buses arriving and departing from Salt Lake City has increased, meaning that transfer waiting time is decreased and other delays are minimized.

In 1986, the Salt Lake District was virtually closed. Airline deregulation had drastically cut the cost of flying and burdensome union contracts made it impossible for Greyhound and Trailways bus lines to respond. As the cost difference between flying and riding decreased, people began abandoning the bus in droves. As ridership fell, the bus industry felt the pinch of a boom industry going bust. Both Greyhound and Trailways were on the brink of financial destruction.

As the problem escalated, bus service diminished. With the permanent closing of Trailways' Salt Lake terminal and the temporary closing of the Greyhound district offices in Salt Lake City, it appeared that both intrastate and interstate passenger bus service was likely to leave Utah entirely. Especially threatened were rural areas, where service depended on contracts with commission agents, people who contracted with the bus line to provide a passenger pickup point, ticket sales and baggage and package handling, where practical. The fact that there were no major terminals to attract regular bus traffic meant that smaller commission offices were suddenly without much hope of continued existence.

In 1987, businessman Fred G. Currey made his move. First he purchased Greyhound and immediately brightened the financial picture by successfully negotiating a 20-percent reduction in employee wages. Once Greyhound was stabilized, Currey looked to Trailways and within months, completed a merger of the two lines. The owner of Bus Lease Inc. in Dallas, Currey brought a strong background in the transportation business to the new venture.

Miceli said the improvements made from the top down are finally having an impact. He said airline fares have stabilized and in many cases have increased. With that threat gone, travelers are once again looking to the bus. And, what they are finding appears to be to their liking.

"I think you'll find that our riders are very pleased with our product and I think many of those you see now used to be flying," Miceli said.

The improvements include a $31 million commitment to add more than 250 new buses to the national fleet. The effort should put some 3,900 buses on the nation's roads by the end of 1989, Miceli said. The growth is phenome nal, considering that Greyhound was operating just 2,660 buses as of March 1987.

For Utahns, this improvement means access to rural areas by bus remains a valid travel option. Miceli said people living along any route traveled by a Greyhound Bus should be able to get service. This may require flagging down a bus where there is no commission agent nearby. The fare will be based on the rate affecting the nearest commission agent office. Also, passengers can be discharged at any point along the route, although drivers generally try to use specific locations for this purpose, Miceli said.

Ticket fares in Utah are governed by the Utah Public Service Commission. Carriers are required to file a tariff (fare schedule) with the PSC and any changes must also be reviewed by the PSC before they are effective. The Interstate Commerce Commission oversees tariffs for traffic between states.