Gridlock Guy: Inexpensive rideshare shuttle debuts this week in Buckhead

Did anyone hear that record scratch? Everyone at the party stopped talking and stared. Something inexpensive exists in Buckhead? That is exactly the selling point of a new rideshare shuttle service going online in Buckhead on Tuesday, the 19th. The Buc, which has existed in some form since 2003, is re-launching this week as an on-demand shuttle that can deliver people to Buckhead destinations during working hours.

Its previous iterations only stopped at fix points, but the new service operates very similarly to Uber and Lyft. Commuters can download “the Buc”, the service’s app, and type in their respective locations. Then the app dispatches a shuttle, one of four 12-14 passenger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans in their fleet.

“It’s still doing the shared ride experience, but it is taking more cars off the road,” Livable Buckhead executive director Denise Starling told the AJC and 95.5 WSB. Another differentiator from single-car rideshare services is price. “The technology is similar - we’re going to be a lot cheaper, honestly.”

As Starling puts it, the Buc “provides last-mile connectivity between transit stations and your workplace.” Those trips on the new Buc service - ones that start or end at the Buckhead or Lenox MARTA stations - are still free. But now the Buc offers trips between any destination within its service zone for a flat $3 fee. Riders can also add additional passengers to their parties for only $1.50 each.

To get the revamped shuttle off the ground, the Buc is offering the first six rides free to every new customer.

The Buc’s service zone cuts through what is described as central Buckhead: Peachtree at East Roxboro to the northeast, Piedmont at Habersham to the northwest, and just below the Pharr Road intersections with Piedmont and Peachtree to the south. So it serves the bulk of the skyscraper-laden commerce area.

The service times show that Buckhead workers are the main constituency. The Buc runs weekdays from 7-9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and 3:30-7 p.m. It extends to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. So ideal uses for it are completing that last mile between MARTA stations and job sites or attending lunches and happy hours. Starling also said they expect big usage from travelers in hotels and they want to encourage Buckhead residents to use it, so they eliminate the clutter of short, one-person trips from Buckhead’s clogged arteries.

The new Buc is also going to stand out from its previous version and from ridesharing services because people in wheelchairs can also use it on-demand. “People in wheelchairs are going to have a lot more options,” Starling said, because one of the four Buc shuttles will have a wheelchair lift and commuters can order it right then. Current mobility services have to be booked well in advance, Starling said, making usage less flexible.

Grants, membership dues, fundraising, and sponsorship fund Livable Buckhead, which runs as a non-profit. The organization has many projects: parks and greenways (like PATH400), development planning, and recycling. They also work with employers on transportation to encourage carpooling and transit.

The Buckhead Community Improvement District - a tax district that commercial property owners pay into - funds the Buc and gives some funding to Livable Buckhead, which operates the Buc. Starling says awareness will be the biggest obstacle for the Buc. “We have to teach people how to use it,” she said, noting the numerous events Livable Buckhead has held to educate people about PATH400, the BeltLine-like pathway that borders GA-400 from Wieuca Road to Sidney Marcus Boulevard.

But Starling does not think that Buckhead’s constituency, which is typically higher income, will shy away from the Buc like they might with MARTA. “”You see [people of all incomes] using Uber and Lyft.”

This may be true, but people love autonomy. If the Buc struggles to deliver people in a timely manner, it will not succeed. Since it runs in a very specific area in small windows, the Buc will have to really super-serve its diehard users to entrench itself.

The new Buc was supposed to launch on April 1st, 2020, but COVID-19 delayed that. Starling said that ended up playing to Livable Buckhead’s advantage. “The pandemic was actually a good thing for us, because it really was a forced pilot for telework.” Starling also mentioned the I-85 bridge collapse in 2017 as another catastrophe that forced people to reconsider their commuting options. MARTA ridership spiked for that brief time.

Serving a niche inexpensively has not worked well for the Atlanta Streetcar, which works on a small Downtown Atlanta loop. But the Buc is banking on being able to win people with flexibility (serving every area in their zone and not just a few stops), luxury and incentives (very nice Sprinter vans and free rides), and a sense of duty (taking cars off the roads). And it’s cheap.

The Buc alone may not eliminate long commutes, but it could make MARTA more attractive by getting people from the stations to job sites more easily. The Buc will also take cars off the road for lunch trips on rainy days or just beyond walking distances. And the shuttle will also be a cheap option for out-of-towners.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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