“The Hop,” Richmond bar-goers’ only guaranteed free means of transportation, is in a bit of a crunch. Thankfully, a metaphorical crunch and not a literal one.
“It doesn’t seem like I can get Richmond to back us like we planned…I haven’t shut the company down. The bus is just sitting with the tags off until we can come up with the money,” said Chad Porter, owner of The Hop. “The bus is still there, all we need is for you to help it get going again.”
After a successful few years of traveling from Carytown to Shockoe Bottom from the hours of 7p.m-3a.m, The Hop’s insurance has nearly tripled, giving Chad Porter no other choice but to pull the tags and keep it off the road.
“It hit me by surprise,” said Porter. “They told me on June 1st that my insurance wasn’t going to get renewed and I had followed up with them a hundred times saying “Hey, I got this letter in the mail, are we going to be okay?” and they said, “Yep, yep, you’re fine” …And my insurance ran up June 2nd. So I was like, “What? You wait until the day before to tell me all this?” I’ve got emails and everything to prove it.”
Before The Hop was taken off the road, it began experiencing problems, and expensive ones for that matter.
“So often we get nasty bills…maybe the transmission was shifting hard, little things like that just kept happening and just eating away at us,” he said. “But then the knife in the back was the insurance going up $12,000 and that really hurt.”
Richmond’s former drunk bus, To the Bottom and Back, had a successful run but folded for similar reasons in 2013.
About three months ago, Porter decided to to get a for-hire liense to keep the bus running on the weekends.
“And at about that time, once we started getting people to commit to for-hires, we got that insurance fee, that pop up, and I had to pull the tags on the bus because we couldn’t afford it,” he said. “Once a month something big would happen on the bus, and it would always come out of my pocket. This last one that I just got was $3,600 for the radiator. Everything is against us it seems like.”
As a VCU alumni, Porter understands what it’s like to have to spend unwanted expenses on a taxicab and how many bar-goers still risk driving intoxicated to spare the fee.
“The whole point was that a lot college kids don’t have a lot of money, so instead of calling a cab, like when I was in college…they’ll just jump in their car like “Oh, we’re just going down the block,” he said. “But that ain’t gonna to happen.”
RVA Mag took a ride on The Hop last spring, check that review out here.
Porter acknowledged that he could start charging riders, but that’s not what he wants.
“I could probably set this company up to where everyone that gets on board pays $5, but I don’t want to do it that way,” he said. “That’s not the point, the point is to try to make it simple. If that kid is worried about $5 versus driving his car then I’d rather it be free.”
Many automobile insurance companies shy away from vehicles that can transport a large amount of people, mainly because of the liability. From paying $6,500 in insurance a year to an increased value ranging from $15,000-$30,000, Porter doesn’t see how he can continue to afford running The Hop with expenses like that, especially while paying a bouncer and licensed CDL driver as well.
“I don’t really care about making money, I just wanted it to stay afloat with it’s own income,” said Porter. “So we had high hopes that the bars and local businesses were involved and would help sponsor and would put up these nice billboards on the side of bars that people could sponsor and get their information and all that and it just didn’t come to play.”
Any business in Richmond can help sponsor The Hop and contribute to the cause.
“We do a three month contract, six months, or a year and each one has different prices,” said Porter. “So [they] would just contact us and we would get a little billboard made up for them and put it on the bus.”
For businesses who who just want to test the waters before buying a bigger billboard, a cheaper sponsorship option, about $150 a month, is offered. This option includes a smaller billboard space inside of the bus that is more clearly visible to riders.
The most important element in getting The Hop back on the road is help from sponsors that will benefit with the insurance coverage. The Hop has tried numerous fundraisers, but hasn’t earned nearly the amount of coverage that it needs to get the bus back on the road.
“The fundraisers don’t raise enough. I think we got like, $300,” he said. “And when you do those, unless you get lucky and somebody pays a lot, it’s mostly college kids at the bars.”
Porter said he doesn’t care about making money and he’s open to ideas for raising funds.
“We had hoped that we’d have enough sponsors to cover just the expenses of the bus and then it could just ride,” said Porter.
Porter estimates that it will cost about $6,000 a month for The Hop bus to run.
To contribute to The Hop, you can make an online donation here.