The Buckhead Coalition will press ahead with a bid to test the “Olli,” a self-driving shuttle bus, at Lenox Square mall despite another business group rejecting a co-funding request for the $88,000 minimum entry pledge.

“The Buckhead Coalition is not in a money-raising business, but will offer in-kind services and facilities, and will welcome any other sponsors,” said Sam Massell, the organization’s president and former Atlanta mayor, in a written statement. “We think it’s beneficial to be introduced to tomorrow’s miracles, and still plan to pitch our proposal to the Olli manufacturers.”

An Olli self-driving shuttle bus. (Local Motors)

A startup company called Local Motors is seeking pitches from metro Atlanta organizations to test its shuttle, dubbed the “Olli,” for a three-month trial run. Massell is supporting the bid, along with MARTA, the mall’s manager, an “autonomous vehicle” expert from the legal firm Dentons, and the executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, a self-taxing group of commercial property owners. MARTA is offering $44,000, the mall $2,500, and the Coalition $1,000, according to BCID Executive Director Jim Durrett.

However, the BCID board on July 24 rejected chipping in $41,500 to fund the rest of the entry pledge. Members questioned the point of paying a startup to demonstrate unproven technology and its effect on an existing neighborhood shuttle system.

Massell was involved in forming the BCID and said one reason was to improve local mobility. “We are thus surprised and disappointed in its reaction rejecting a $40,000 participation request –pocket change from the $6,000,000 annual taxes it levies, hardly the cost of benches for its proposed Ga. 400 road park,” Massell said.

The Coalition is an invitation-only group of 100 business and community leaders. Its own proposed contribution of $1,000 was met with a couple of light jokes from BCID board members during their shuttle discussion.

On July 26, Massell issued a press release declaring that the same team of Atlanta leaders – including Durrett, the BCID’s executive director – still “endorse” the shuttle bid and want to see the vehicle tested during the holiday shopping period this year.

“What could be a better more recognizable address than Atlanta/Buckhead/Peachtree Road/Lenox Square, and with the expected unbelievable holiday-spirited individuals and family groups, we’re comfortable in predicting success,” Massell said in the press release.

In a separate written statement, Massell pitched other benefits.

“We are hungry for innovative ideas to improve traffic flow in this part of Atlanta,” Massell said. “This AV [autonomous vehicle] prototype could educate us on another new transportation mode and bring considerable media attention to Buckhead (supplementing our growing technology brand).”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.