Believing in ‘the buc’ as metro surveys show increased desire for transit

By Guest Columnist JIM DURRETT, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District

Last month the Buckhead Community Improvement District, or “CID,” now 14 years old, celebrated 10 continuous years offering free bus service for workers, residents and visitors, featuring our shuttle, which we named “the buc.”

The purpose of this transit service is to augment existing MARTA bus service on Peachtree and Piedmont, and offer “last-mile connectivity” for commuters using MARTA to get to and from work.  Why did the Buckhead CID choose to do this and, perhaps more importantly, why should you care and bother to read this?

For a regionally-significant urban activity and jobs center to prosper, you need to have adequate flow of goods and people into and out of the center as well as within the center.  I mean transportation.  And you need to pay attention to both the supply side of the transportation equation as well as the demand side of the equation.

On the supply side, what kind of infrastructure are you putting on the ground?  Are you investing in transit and the right kind of roads to move people and goods into and out of the center?  Are you creating a walkable urban place by investing in safe sidewalks and bike lanes as part of a complete street program within the center?

Jim Durrett

Jim Durrett


And for those who arrive and depart via MARTA train or bus, if they can’t walk or bike to and from their ultimate destination, how will they complete this “last mile” of their commute trip?

On the demand side of the equation, what are you doing to educate the public about commute options: carpooling, vanpooling, transit use, flex-time work hours, teleworking?  What are you doing to encourage land use changes that bring about a better balance of housing, retail and jobs within the center so that a greater proportion of jobs within the center are filled by residents of the center?  What are you doing to reduce the demand for increasingly expensive transportation infrastructure?

By the end of this year, about $11.75 million will have been spent to operate the buc program over this 10-year period.  A little more than half of that amount will have come from CID taxes, and a little under half will have come from other sources of funding: federal grants, advertising and sponsorship.

When we began the program, we had an annual operating budget of $1.5 million and transported about 2,200 riders per day.  Then “the buc” operated from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  After a few years, grant funding dried up, and the CID had to fund the lion’s share of operating costs.  We had to cut back service because the cost to continue operating as originally designed was too great a portion of our annual revenues.

Today, the budget is about $750,000 per year, the shuttle operates during morning and evening commute hours, and ridership has dropped to about 470 riders per day serving just the commuter market, not the all-day market.  Just as MARTA has experienced, if you cut back service, ridership declines.

Why do we continue to do this?

For an answer, let’s remember the results of two recent reports covered on this website.  In a survey recently conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission — “Metro Atlanta Speaks,” 71.3 percent of respondents indicated that public transportation is “very important” for the Atlanta region’s future.

In addition, when asked what the best long-term solution to traffic problems in the Atlanta region is, the most cited solution was improvements to public transportation (41 percent of respondents.)

Let’s also look to the research on the Atlanta region’s walkable urban places — WalkUPs, documenting the number of existing and emerging regionally-significant WalkUPs in the region and the relationship of the value of the real estate to the degree of walkability.

Transit benefits from walkability and vice versa.  The answer is that the market demands it, and the area benefits from it.

As I reflect on our past and ongoing investment in “the buc,” as well as the soon-to-be-opened pedestrian bridge over Georgia 400 that will access a new entrance to MARTA’s Buckhead Station, I am reminded of how important it is to plan for and design how multiple investments should work together for optimal impact.

I look forward to monitoring ridership on “the buc” as it passes right by this new access point on the west side of Georgia 400.  And I am reminded by my colleague, Denise Starling of BATMA and Livable Buckhead, of those days long ago when early riders of “the buc” confused it for the Gold Club shuttle.

10 replies
  1. JDR says:

    It’s better than nothing but as a past user I can say that it’s often to just bite the bullet and walk that last half mile or so from the MARTA Station vs waiting for 25 minutes on that shuttle to show up.  Increased transit service is severely needed in the area.Report

  2. Larry says:

    The buc really doesn’t work. 2 things. First so few people even knows that it exists!Why can’t you guys make it onto the MARTA map so people at least knows such a service exists?
    second, it needs some serious rerouting. that Piedmont Lenox route is so winding I often find it faster to walk than take it even if I’m almost going to the furthest stop on Piedmont. what’s the point to wait if it’s even slower than walking? And it’s so often caught in the middle of the freaking traffic on Peachtree. With the new Buckhead north entrance they need to reroute it to avoid Peachtree road altogether. Otherwise it’s probably better if they donate it to Marta and ask for creating a new bus route.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    They cut the budget by half and the ridership declined by almost 79%. Not an astute business decision. Surely they can devise something more cost effective.Report

  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston Broch They cut the budget by half because the grants that the shuttle service was dependent upon to operate dried up, hence proving that the “free” shuttle wasn’t really all that “free” after all.
    The funding problem with the Buckhead shuttle illustrates a major problem with transportation funding in this society these days, particularly here in the Atlanta region where people have the expectation that transportation, if not free, should be as close to free as possible.
    The only problem with expecting transportation to be free or as close to free as possible is that transportation infrastructure is NOT free.
    Transportation infrastructure cost money to design, build and operate and when that transportation infrastructure, whether it be roads, or trains or buses, doesn’t collect enough revenue to cover the costs of the desired level of operations, then the availability of that transportation infrastructure often has to be reduced or even cut completely.
    Just because a transportation service like “The Buc” was operating with federal grant money (…grant money which the Feds BORROW from external sources like China and Japan and even internal sources like other parts of the federal budget because just like local and state governments, the Feds too don’t like to collect enough revenues to cover the true costs of transportation so that they maintain the illusion that transportation infrastructure like roads and buses is “FREE”) so that it did not have to collect fare revenue from its customers does not mean that the shuttle service was really free.
    “The Buc”, just like any other form of transportation infrastructure had operating costs to cover (maintenance, fuel, employees, etc).
    If the Buckhead CID wants to continue to operate “The Buc” at a higher level beyond just rush hour service, than the Buckhead CID needs to collect more revenue to operate that service at a higher level from source other than grants.
    It’s pretty darn simple…To make up for the shortage of funding from grants, the Buckhead CID needs to collect operating revenues from fares (most-likely distance-based fares), otherwise, the shuttle service will continue to wither from a lack of operating funds that could easily be collected at the farebox.Report

  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia
    Give me a break and lay off the excuses.
    They cut the budget in half but lost 79% of their riders. Their cost per rider increased by 134%. Even MARTA doesn’t do that poorly. Their planning was and remains obviously deficient.Report

  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston BrochThe Last Democrat in Georgia Well its pretty obvious that their planning is deficient if they expected to be able to operate this “free” shuttle service forever with federal grants in an era where federal transportation funding is declining rather rapidly in some cases.
    I’m not making excuses for the incompetence of organizations who think that they provide transportation services without collecting the proper amount of revenue that is needed to pay the operating and maintenance costs of that service.
    The Buckhead CID is the one making the excuses that they can’t provide “free” shuttle service without money because they refuse to collect operating revenue from the farebox.
    The Buckhead CID should have never made the operations of the shuttle service almost totally-dependent upon the availability of federal grants in an era where federal funding is shrinking rapidly.
    The Buckhead CID should have simply collected what the service was worth at the farebox so that they most-likely would not be having this problem of trying to operate a “free” shuttle without enough funding to cover costs.
    Being dependent upon borrowed grant money from the Feds so that one does not have to collect fares and can maintain the illusion of giving away a free service is NOT a sustainable business model.
    No business can stay viable for long if their business model is based upon someone else to borrowing money to donate to them so that they can give away their products and services for free.Report

  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s interesting that they call it “the buc.”
    The old Roswell Railroad had a locomotive called “The Buck.” From Wikipedia, “They had one narrow-gauge numbered 815, an 1878 steamer named “The Buck” (builder construction number 4321). Since the railroad had no turntable, The Buck ran forward from Chamblee to the end of the line, then ran reverse back to Chamblee.Report

  8. Burroughston Broch says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia
    I had forgotten that Mr. Durrett also served as Chair of the MARTA Board. He applied to the buc the MARTA method of reducing service to cut loses. The method failed on the buc just as it failed on MARTA.Report

  9. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Burroughston BrochThe Last Democrat in Georgia Reducing service due to the refusal to collect the proper amount of transportation revenues from user fees is a good point.
    It’s also a good reason why user fees (fares on transit, and fuel taxes and tolls on roads) should be indexed to inflation so that the revenues collected from the user fees always covers most (preferably ALL) of the costs of operating and maintaining transportation infrastructure.
    Construction, operation and maintenance costs don’t stay the same and neither should the revenues (from user fees) that pay those costs stay the same while those costs continue to rise over time.
    Refusing to collect enough revenues from user fees to cover operating and maintenance costs so that governing bodies can maintain the illusion that transportation infrastructure is “free” (or is as close to free as possible) is why we as a state and as a nation don’t have enough revenues on hand to pay for our growing transportation needs and have to borrow increasingly heavily to pay to cover less and less of those growing transportation needs.
    Just here in the Atlanta region alone, it makes no sense to have transportation funds that are rapidly-shrinking while the population (and the pressing need for transportation funding) is exploding.
    Something is really, terribly, horribly wrong with this pervasive logic of preferring to dramatically reduce (or even cease) important transportation services rather collect the actual costs that are needed to continue to provide those services.
    It’s like we are really seriously caught up in trying to maintain the illusion of giving people “something for nothing” after years of lying to them and telling them that transportation infrastructure is basically “free” (hence the term “freeways”) when that infrastructure is not free by any means.
    “Reducing service to cut losses” is not just a failure of transportation entities like “The Buc”, MARTA, (Clayton County’s) C-Tran, etc, but is also a reflection of the massive failure of this region’s and this state’s approach to funding critically-important transportation infrastructure.
    We don’t build and/or implement the amount of transportation infrastructure that is so critically-needed just simply because we don’t want to pay for it and often think that we should not have to pay for it.
    (What an insult!…Having to actually pay for a critically-important service that is not free…Imagine that.)Report


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