It may be lime-green and black now, but riders on Jim Porter's downtown free express shuttle bus for nighttime revelers will still be riding the cheese.
More exactly, riding a formerly cheddar-colored retired school bus that Porter, a former city cab driver, is repainting and plans to deploy next week. The free shuttle service will run between restaurants and hotels from the top of Carytown to the bottom of the Bottom. Porter says costs will be covered by bus advertising.
Porter's idea, To the Bottom and Back bus service, was born of years of driving cabs around downtown, ferrying merrymakers from local hotels to restaurants and back.
“The problem they have down there is there really is no way to move people around,” Porter says. “You go to other cities and they've got shuttles and subways.”
As Porter sees it, Richmond has no convenient or clear bus link between its hotels and food and entertainment offerings. Even for the locals, making an evening out of seeing the sites is tough, with $5 parking lots and minimal free parking. The hassle's enough to send some restaurant-goers to the counties.
“They need this so bad,” Porter says. “To go to a bar, to park downtown — it's hard to do unless you pay for parking.”
Porter may have competition. GRTC Chief Executive John Lewis is shopping plans tied to his proposed bus depot at Main Street Station that would free up millions of dollars in funding to operate a free, citywide shuttle-bus service.
The city's regulated bus service, with routes governed and dictated by City Council, has been unable to provide a similar service, though Mayor Dwight Jones has indicated he may ask Council to revisit its legislative control over bus routes.
Whatever free shuttle comes to pass, Bob McNulty, general manager at Sine Irish Pub in Shockoe Slip, says he sees it filling a void. “It's something to build on,” he says. “People who go out to sell conventions to the convention center, they're going to have this added bonus.”
As envisioned, Porter's shuttle will run from Ellwood Avenue at the top of Cary Street down through Shockoe Slip and the Bottom, with stops at hotels along the way, turning around at the Marketplace grocery store near the foot of Chimborazo Hill. The service would run hourly between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m.
The service, Porter says has the “potential of being able to deliver two or three hundred people outside of their bars or restaurants every night.”