Big plans brewing for To the Bottom & Back

During the summer, To the Bottom & Back suspended services due to a decrease in ridership. Now, the nonprofit bus service is seeing increased gains, and has its eyes set on expansion.

Update #3 — October 16th, 7:20 AM

One weekend this past August, To the Bottom and Back (2BNB) suspended services due to a dearth of funding caused largely by the summer exodus of college students (see article below). Now, several weeks into the fall semester, owner and founder Jim Porter said 2BNB is once again seeing “big numbers” in ridership and donations.

Each of the two busses 2BNB runs on Friday and Saturday evenings average between 300-500 riders a night, according to Porter. Donations have increased as a result (totaling around $100 per night). Online contributions have spiked too.

“Our Paypal [donations] have gone up tremendously,” said Porter, who estimates that 2BNB has raised roughly $4,000 since August. “We’re rolling, man.” But not quite as much as they were in 2011.

“At this point in time last year, we were running four buses,” said Porter. There were two buses along the eight-mile loop between Shockoe Bottom and Carytown, one between Carytown to University of Richmond, and another bus along Broad Street. This year, Porter can’t afford running the popular Broad Street bus. That’s because of his insistence on providing discounted bus service beyond weekend nights.

2BNB does not solely provide transportation for drunken bar-goers on Friday and Saturday evenings. Porter routinely provides events and specific communities with buses and drivers at discounted rates, sometimes free of charge. “It’s the kind of stuff I like to do,” he said.

For instance, last summer amid depleted ridership and funding, 2BNB routinely transported children in summer programs around the city, often with minimal financial compensation. More recently, 2BNB shuttled approximately 70 people to a back-to-school night at Chimborazo Elementary School. 2BNB also provided free transportation to participants in last month’s Slut Walk.

So how does Porter fund these pro bono operations? He relies on the donations from nighttime ridership and business sponsorships. With college now in session and ridership at full bore, 2BNB can now make enough money to cover the cost of basic weekend evening bus operations and the community events.

However, because the community events draw upon donations from weekend night operations, Porter said “We don’t have the financial resources” to offer additional weekend routes. To offer those routes, Porter will need another funding source beyond donations and sponsorships. He has several in mind.

Now in 2BNB’s third year, Porter will soon apply for several grants to help fund operations on top of donations and sponsorships. One grant he has in mind is through The Community Foundation, the organization behind The Amazing Raise. He said grants will cover costs associated with the community routes he runs. The grants will also free up money to add bus routes on weekend nights.

Porter hopes to bring back the Broad Street route, and add new ones, including a route that runs from Rocketts Landing to Carytown. These added routes, along with the shuttling service he provides other days, underscores his belief that 2BNB is not merely a service, but a community resource.

“I would like 2BNB to be like the Green Bay Packers,” said Porter, referring to the only non-profit and community-owned major league professional sports team in the US. Not only does he still want to curb drunk driving by offering the weekend evening routes, he also wants to provide the city with another form of reliable, inexpensive transportation for a variety of needs. “That’s where I can make a real difference,” he said.

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Update #2 — August 14th, 7:00 AM

We spoke to Jim Porter, founder of 2BNB, about what exactly it costs to run the bus services and how much money they’ve raised in the past.

Also, make sure you check out this thoughtful comment by Scott Burger on 2BNB, the GRTC, and how other cities make bus circulators work:

My vision is something that runs frequently (a bus comes, say every fifteen minutes), has low fare (maybe even free), and runs a fixed route from Main Street Station down Broad to the Boulevard and back down Cary (of course some see smaller or bigger routes for it). Convenience and reliability is the name of the game. Ideally, GRTC could use this circulator as the hub and have spoke routes off of it.

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Update #1 — August 10th, 3:40 PM

To the Bottom and Back are looking to raise around $4,000 by the end of the weekend. If you’d like to donate, you can do so online.

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Original — August 10th, 7:48 AM

Last night, To the Bottom and Back announce on their Facebook page that due to a lack of donations they would be suspending service for this weekend:

As you all may know, 2BNB operates off Donations from the public and private sectors! Because of declines in donations this summer, we will not be running this weekend! We are sorry for any problems you incur! We will resume as soon as donations increase! Thank you for all your support!

To the Bottom and Back has offered free (donation supported) transportation to and from some of Richmond’s most popular attractions and bars for almost three years. It’s even earned the praises of Mayor Jones and former GRTC CEO John Lewis.

If you’d like to help out, you can donate online here.


Photo by: Instagram user minam0ri

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