What it costs to keep To the Bottom and Back running

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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  1. The legal firm Emroch and Kilduf, for example, donate $1,000 per month 


Photo by: Instagram user minam0ri

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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

  1. I’m really glad the service isn’t about to go away for good. But my offer still stands: if $4000 gets donated in the name of nudespo, I will streak to the bottom and back, and as a bonus, I will match these donations, one quarter to every dollar (sorry I’m not rich), to a maximum of $1000, for a total of $5000. So as an example, if you donate $20 in my name, you’re really donating $25! Isn’t that great?

  2. How does one donate in your name, Nudespo? I’ll pitch in. :-)

    The criticism of 2BnB is proof that some folks just like to find something to complain about. I think 2BnB is one of the best services available in Richmond. It’s a fantastic idea and one well worth supporting.

    Taxpayers are not being asked to pay for this so there is jut all upside. Yet somebody will still find fault with that.

    I remember an incident back in the late 1990’s when a car full of very intoxicated (I believe) college students left the bottom, got onto I-95 going the wrong way and collided head-on with another car. Several people were killed in that accident.

    I remember another incident of a drunk driver leaving the bottom heading back to The Fan, crossing over Belvidere on Main, losing control of their vehicle and plowing into a tree in Monroe Park. The driver died.

    If 2BnB prevents just one of these kinds of incidents happening, then it will have been a huge success. This is an example of an individual taking initiative instead of relying on government to address a social and community problem.

    Thank you Mr. Porter for turning your personal tragedy into a public service. Even though I don’t visit the bottom often, I’m happy to support 2BnB.

  3. Tom T on said:

    2BNB struggles for donations because it can’t keep to a simple route. I’ve thrown up my hands in frustration multiple times because I see the bus coming…then it just veers off in another direction. It’s pretty simple- if they had riders who gave a damn, they would make donations. Of course on the flip side of that is riders who care also demand the very basics in service. Why donate to a service that provides absolutely nothing for me?

    Just think…a year or two ago they were running 3 days a week, they had a tourism route, they were running events and all over the news. They seemed to be flush with cash from donations, and never- NEVER would cancel a weekend. Now they’re reduced to begging for scraps and seem to have lost whatever spark it was that had people talking about the next great thing. I even remember hearing on the bus the drivers talking about expanding to other cities and new routes.

    Now? Well I can’t even catch the bus so how the hell would I know?

    Just goes to show how bad management can ruin everything. I was at BFD 3 years back and heard Jim going on and on about how everyone was out to put a stop to the service. It seemed so strange at the time and sounded more like someone who NEEDED the system to fight. Now? Who the hell is trying to stop them? Who the hell cares frankly?

    Hey, good on them. If they want their service to be a door to door drop off service then they should probably get smaller vehicles, not those huge ass buses; and they can help the few at a time. It’s admirable and serves a purpose. Of course they could have just run their routes and helped LOTS of people…and maybe it wouldn’t have been door to door- but it would have been good! It could have been a movement with lots of people participating, and instead it’s just a guy with a bus driving around. Hey, that’s cool and whatever works for them, but so much for helping the people.

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