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.

— ∮∮∮ —

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.

— ∮∮∮ —

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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Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Drunk Bro on said:

    I spended all my moneys getting wasted! Now I’m going to drive myselves house! WHEWWWWWWW!!! ::kicksovertrashcan::

  2. bopst on said:

    Is that because nobody wants to go to the Bottom?

  3. Scott Burger on said:

    Folks, I am serving as a volunteer on City Council’s GRTC Task Force (yes, I am a glutton for punishment). I am commenting here because I want people to know what is going on- but first a bit about GRTC…

    GRTC (Greater Richmond Transit Company) is a nonprofit corporation mostly supported financially by the City. even though Henrico and Chesterfield are supposed to be partners, they supply very little funding. State and federal money is drying up.

    GRTC is actually very efficient within its own framework and mandate. In fact it has won national awards and seen as a role model for its ability to budget and function at a high level. GRTC deserves a lot of praise for this. The problem is that 1) its own framework and mandate does not mean it always serves citizens at the level they deserve, 2) it is severely restricted by politics and finances.

    I believe that the GRTC model, as efficient as it is, needs to be dramatically changed in order to get the public mass transportation system that this region deserves. To do so within this increasingly difficult economic environment is a great challenge. A lot of people, including the GRTC Board and the City’s Anti-Poverty Commission, believe we all need to press the counties for more funding. While I do not disagree with that, I am pessimistic and do not see the counties wanting to spend the taxpayer money (of course, we also see this with the ballpark debate, and many other things). I can tell you there have certainly NOT been any county folks at Task Force meetings.

    So where does this leave GRTC and how does this relate to the Bottom and Back service? Patience, I am getting there…

    One strong line of thought from the City Council Task Force is if GRTC can make a dramatic change (and in the process, change the unfortunate perception of GRTC being a social service for low income people to GRTC being a convenient and attractive mass transit system), then it can make the counties want to be part of the system and then get their help to build on to what GRTC currently offers. That is the hope at least- come up with something that is ‘a game changer’ in terms of the area’s public mass transit.
    So, what can that change be and how does the City pay for it?

    While the Task Force is still tossing some ideas around, with some of them being more realistic than others, one of them that has consistently been talked about is a downtown circulator that serves both citizens and tourists. This has been tried before, but rather badly- in one instance, a Lunch Express that no one saw as particularly convenient or trustworthy. 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.

    How to pay for it? Two models have been thrown about- Orlando (where former GRTC CEO John Lewis went) has a circulator that has dedicated public funding from parking fees. The problem for City of Richmond is that most of its parking decks are private and it does not have that source. So where else to get dedicated public funding? The other model is Baltimore which has it’s Charm City Circulator paid for with a lot of donations by corporations that see benefits of mass transit for their employees. It’s more of a “Richmond Renaissance” model that I am not particularly fond of, but hey, the Charm City Circulator seems to be serving its purpose.

    But back to Richmond and here is where the Bottom ad Back service comes in…In order to make a downtown circulator work, the CIty needs to capture the ridership market for its service. Remember, if you go back to when Richmond was known as a trolley town, there was at first competing private trolley lines. In a sense, we are seeing that with buses now (and yeah, I wish Richmond could afford to bring back the trolley/light rail, I really do, but that is a whole other conversation). With VCU and U of R contracting with Groome Transportation, a private company, for their own respective circulators, and Bottom and Back service hanging in there, how can GRTC possibly get the downtown circulator ridership it needs to make it be seen as successful?

    Unfortunately, we may have to wait and see how all this works out, and in the meantime, I am not optimistic about GRTC and regional mass transit. Now there is a lot of other things to think about- interstate passenger rail, more alternatives (Zip cars, for example), the Mayor’s Richmond Connects initiative (which has a lot more political inertia behind it), Route 5 debate, location of future GRTC transfer station, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) proposal, whatever Short Pump eventually comes up for its circulator, the fact that GRTC’s Care Van service is a significant part of it budget and the expected growth in that service as the population gets older, the promised, better GRTC signage, smarter technologies, etc. , but if you can, please think about the circulator concept and what you want for Richmond.

    One other thing and it is a bit of a disclaimer as well as another plea – I have not used GRTC myself because I have not found the service convenient. I usually walk, bike or drive my car. I was asked to serve on the Task Force because I am with the Sierra Club and had previously served on the CIty Council’s Green Building Advisory Committee, and I bring the ‘green’ perspective. Since I have been on the GRTC Task Force, I have purposely pushed to get more people on the Task Force, and in particular people who DO use GRTC. My plea is that more people get involved.

  4. Matt on said:

    Good read, Scott. Richmond needs public transit (ideally a trolley) that runs regularly and express to main points- The Bottom, VCU, Carytown, Manchester- and runs later, even till 2am on fri/sat. Until they can offer such a service GRTC will be seen as nothing other than an inefficient method of transportation for poor people.

  5. LouieKablooie on said:

    Agreed. Rebrand the GRTC. Keep it clean, green and efficient. Everytime I decide to use it I am dissuaded by the amount of time needed for transit. 2nd st. to Willow Lawn was something like 57 min. and stops at 1030 at night. I’d like to ride it just needs to make sense.

  6. This was about the Back to the Bottom Bus, right?

    I rode this a few times and while it was a bit crazy, it was convenient. I think they should start charging the riders. I’d pay a buck a trip for a reliable ride through the heart of Richmond’s museum, art and entertainment districts. Maybe they could refus their business model away from drinking crowd to regular folks who just want to go out to each, see a movie or visit a gallery. There’s a big market out there just waiting to be tapped. I hope they can get back up and running.

  7. Lesley Weatherford on said:

    $1.00?? How about $5? I would gladly pay that and if folks are paying upwards of $4 for their drinks, they should be willing to spend about the cost of a drink for fare.

  8. b2bfacts on said:

    Unfortunately B2B is banned by law for charging for fares by the Richmond City Council, who have control over ALL paid bus routes in Richmond. Like to change the law? Contact city council.

    Here’s a citation-

  9. JamieKendrick on said:

    The charm city circulator in baltimore is paid for by an increase in the parking tax that began in 2008. This covers approx 80 percent of cost. The balanc is covered by traffic mitigation fees paid by developers and ad revenue

  10. Scott —
    Thank you for serving on the GRTC task force — quite a contribution of your time and talent to the community.

  11. I’m glad the GRTC has resorted to trolling blogs in an attempt to expand its budget. Regarding the subject at hand:

    Drunk mentality: “this is awesome, I’ll give them a $20”
    …next morning
    “I bet a lot of people gave them a $20”
    …next weekend
    “I’m not giving them anything, I gave them $20 last time”

    And so on and so forth. A great service run by good people. I hope they find a way to continue on.

  12. I like your contribution to the discussion, with the exception of the first sentence which does not further civil dialogue and is likely inaccurate.

  13. Bill on said:

    It seems to me that the bar & club owners could be doing something to help out. Perhaps a tip jar or something similar for 2BNB. How many bars are on the route that the bus service serves? If you divide it out it seems their contribution would be small.

  14. We rode the bus a few times, but it didn’t run often enough. Once we waited 45 minutes before deciding to walk instead. If you could catch it within 5-10 minutes, you were lucky.

    Another time, I tried to flag the bus down on Robinson. It rolled on by. The driver waved.

    There didn’t seem to be any fixed schedule, and not all riders have the ability to check bus status via smartphone.

  15. If $4000 get raised to the Bottom and Back bus in my name, I will ride it “to the bottom and back,” risking arrest, totally naked. For more, check out my blog, #nudespo.

  16. How much do we have to pay to keep your clothes on?

  17. Tim T on said:

    2BNB has failed in it’s mission. When it first started out they had a great set of rules. No drinking on the bus, no smoking, no fighting. It was suppose to be a safe place for people to ride comfortably to their destination.

    Instead it has scummed to mis-management, favoritism, and has been renting itself out “for hire” in direct contradiction to it’s non-profit status. I’ve seen drug deals going down on the bus by some of their hosts, smoking and drinking allowed to continue, and on top of all that they can’t seem to follow a simple route- driving off all the time. I’ve watched their tracking system while waiting and suddenly see the bus has decided to take a detour somewhere else besides where it was suppose to go.

    It was such a great idea, and worked really well the first 2 years. This last year has just been a disaster for them. It’s going to take them having a long hard look at themselves and their mission before they can make a real sustainable comeback. Otherwise they are just a good idea with no direction.

  18. MrsThorsen on said:

    Jersey City has a great model. The gypsy buses run up and down main drag, Kennedy Boulevard. They are small, and there are a lot of them. They cost half of what the official NJ transit buses cost. Riders pay cash. City eventually authorized them and gave them official stops at the transit staton. I found them far more convenient than the scheduled routes. I think the key is that there were many buses running the route, and riders paid for it.

  19. Saying that 2bnb has” failed” is ludicrous. There are numerous folks I know that frankly have made the better choice of not driving and opting for the bus, thus it has not failed. If/when there are shenanigans occurring on the bus that are illegal or you disapprove of then do the responsible thing and report them, just as you would with any illicit behavior. If you disapprove so much for the bus, then take a cab – the terrible cab service in this city will be happy for your fare.

    It seems as though with the city-imposed lack of competition 2bnb is our option. I do encourage all who would like for a trollyesque service to read the city policy above and comprehend that unlike the various other cities referenced, competition-driven service is a no-go here for now.

    I appreciate my nearly door-to-door ride to the Folk Festival this weekend, and happily dropped my donation into the tube. Why can’t we just be happy that while not perfect, this is a great thing?

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