Many were surprised when To the Bottom and Back suspended its bus services last weekend because of a lack of donations. We talked with the founder to find out what it needs to keep going.
Last Thursday, To the Bottom and Back (2BNB) announced that they would suspend services for the weekend due to a lack of donations needed to fund operations. After turning to their users and patrons, by Friday 2BNB had raised a little over $1,000. “We’ve gotten a positive response,” said Jim Porter, founder of the nonprofit service. He hopes to raise $5,000.
Porter said summer is tough for bus operations. During the last weekend of operation, 2BNB carried about 600 people on the one bus it runs during summer months. During school semesters, Porter said two or three buses can carry over 5,000 people each week; a festival or special event can mean upwards of 3,000 people in one night. “College students and their parents and the businesses really look out for us,” said Porter. When those students leave the city for summer break, 2BNB sees a dip in donations, donations it requires to operate–especially in August when many of 2BNB’s fees are due.
Every three months, Porter pays $2,100 for auto insurance and about $1,000 towards a workman’s compensation fund required by law. “All of that is due at the end of the month,” he said. Porter estimates that 2BNB saved about $1,000 in operation costs by suspending service. “We really needed to take [last] weekend off.” While 2BNB is not in danger of going under, it has recently had difficulty making ends meet.
A typical 2BNB bus operates in an eight-mile loop traveling from Carytown to Shockoe Bottom. Each bus works in a 10-hour shift and has a driver (paid $12 per hour) and a host ($10 per hour). Porter said that it costs $500 to operate one bus per day (about $4,000 each month), which also includes gas and general bus maintenance. Payroll alone during the summer months is about $5,000 (close to $10,000 when colleges are in session). “It’s expensive to run this thing,” he said. “You have to move big numbers” to pay the bills.
Porter, who several years ago was hit by a drunk driver and suffered 23 fractures and permanent nerve damage, receiving a sizeable settlement from the driver, started 2BNB in 2009 as a non-profit service to discourage drunk driving. His start up fees were $6,500. In 2010, 2BNB raised $150,000 in donations. In 2011, the amount increased to $220,000. “We’ve never been out pushing for money,” said Porter, who dislikes soliciting businesses and organizations for cash, preferring to rely on rider donations and businesses who seek out sponsorships.1 “We’ve always been really lucky.” He said that 2BNB costs more money to operate than it did when he began, and the dearth of summer donations coupled with looming large payments necessitated the weekend shutdown.
In addition to its nighttime routes, meant to dissuade drunk driving, the nonprofit also donates time and resources to local nonprofits. This summer, it’s driven members of a local camp for autistic children, a program devoted to young girls, as well as provided transportation for food bank users to return home with their groceries. “When you meet these people, you can’t say ‘no’ to them,” said Porter. He knows the travel difficulties associated with the events of area nonprofits and uses 2BNB to give the nonprofits an affordable–if not free–travel resource.
Porter said he’s received criticism that 2BNB is nothing more than a taxi or bus service, and not deserving of special tax and regulatory dispensation it gets as a nonprofit. “I’ve been chest-thumped and threatened,” said Porter. However, he said 2BNB provides a resource that is hard to find elsewhere.
For example, if a young, intoxicated woman needs to walk home alone for several blocks late one night, Porter prefers his drivers go outside the bus route to ensure that the young woman arrives home safely.
Porter said that 2BNB will resume operations this weekend with the GWAR-B-Q at Hadad’s. When students return later this month, Porter expects that 2BNB will begin operating its full fleet and see an increase in donations. “I really do care about [these] students,” said Porter. “I know how stupid it is to drink and drive.”
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- The legal firm Emroch and Kilduf, for example, donate $1,000 per month ↩
Photo by: Instagram user minam0ri