2BNB: Saving lives and energy, free of charge

When I first saw the green “To the Bottom and Back” (2BNB) bus cruising down Main Street, I did not see myself ever riding it.  However, after my friend rented it out for her birthday this past summer, I realized that the organization has dedicated itself to promoting safe travel between Richmond’s Fan District and Shockoe Bottom, free of charge.  After my recent rip on the “pickle bus” with the transportRVA crew, it is evident that owner Jim Porter has even bigger plans for the city’s only free mode of transportation.

RichmondBizSense interviewed Porter last month asking him how many people are usually on the buses.  He answered, “Over 3,000 per weekend.”  Imagine those 3,000 passengers all driving (even carpooling) from VCU, U of R and the fan every Friday and Saturday night?  Not only is there a lack of parking space downtown, but the average fare for a cab ride from the Fan to Shockoe slip is $7 per passenger.  According to Wikitravel, the best way to get around Richmond is by car, so 2BNB entered an untapped market by offering free rides.   Porter says that he would have had to go through a lot of red tape to charge passengers.  As a nonprofit organization, the funding comes from the 20 sponsors that include local businesses such as Starlite, Loveland Distributing Company and LEX’s of Carytown.

As I was riding the bus, I had a conversation with 2BNB driver, Fran King as her husband, John King, also a driver for the organization, drove through the city. 

“The owner has worked closely with the Richmond city council,” said Fran, “to get the buses up and running.  We are paying it forward with this program!  We are one-of-a-kind in the country, especially since we have our own GPS tracking system for passengers to know where we are located at all times.”

I did some research to see if other cities throughout the country have implemented free transportation programs and found Portland Oregon’s, TriMet, the Free Rail Zone.  Named one of the 10 best cities in the U.S. for public transportation, Portland’s TriMet allows riders to enjoy free travel within downtown – all day, every day.

While 2BNB may be indirectly promoting sustainability by transporting thousands of passengers a weekend, the organization is proof that public transportation opportunities do exist in Richmond – saving lives and energy, at no cost to passengers.

As she prepared for the slew of weekend passengers, Fran said, “We just want to make it enjoyable for everyone.”  Passengers can look forward to expanded service because 2BNB plans to add four more buses in 2011.

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