For a year now, bar-hoppers from Carytown to Shockoe Bottom could depend upon a safe and free ride in a converted school bus running the weekend night-life route from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
But TheHopRVA bus, which seats 54, has come to a halt because of skyrocketing insurance rates, says owner and operator Chad Porter, whose service was cited by readers in this year’s Best of Richmond poll.
“We had been paying $6,500 a year for insurance,” Porter says. “But when we got new quotes, I couldn’t believe it. The rates went from $17,000 to $30,000. How can they go up so much in just one year?”
At its peak the service was averaging 100 to 200 riders a weekend, Porter says. It was so popular that he bought a second bus before the insurance rates stopped him in his tracks. He wants to keep things going, but can’t make it without corporate sponsors. Summer service was cut back, but now the bus simply isn’t rolling.
Porter never expected to make money, he says, just sustain the operation. “We were doing this because public transit service pretty much shuts down at 6 p.m.,” he says. “We were worried that kids might not get home safe.”
They never asked riders for donations, and secured sponsorships from Cha-Cha’s Cantina and the Star-lite Dining and Lounge and, for a while, from the Richmond Kickers. Napoleon Taxi also has offered support.
The idea was that more of the bars and restaurants along the Carytown-Shockoe route might help out with expenses, but that didn’t materialize. And the ride may be free, but the service isn’t. “I just got a new expense,” he says — “$3,600 for a radiator.”
Porter says he’s trying to raise $18,000, including seeking online donations through his website, thehoprva.com, so the company can buy insurance and keep going.