An on-demand, low-cost shuttle van service is set to run in central Buckhead’s business and residential districts as early as April 1 now that a liability issue was ironed out, according to an official involved in the deal.
Hailed by an Uber-style app from a company called Via, the fleet of six free-roaming vans will take people anywhere in the general areas of the central business district, Buckhead Village and the Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls. The fare will be $3 a ride – and free for any trip to or from a MARTA station, according to Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, a nonprofit involved in operating the service.
The Via vans will replace the existing “buc” bus, an old-school commuter shuttle service that operates on limited routes only serving MARTA stations and two office complexes. Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Community Improvement District have operated the “buc” for over 16 years and has cut back the service in recent years.
Instead of the fixed routes for commuters, the Via service of 12-passenger vans will be available anywhere in the central Buckhead area during the workday and on some extended evening hours Thursdays and Fridays. Much like Uber or Lyft, Via will use a phone app that allows riders to call for the van and see how long it will take to arrive. Starling said the app also will be able to offer promotional discounts at local businesses.
The BCID board approved the Via deal in September, with board members calling it a potentially “revolutionary” model for transit service in the metro Atlanta area. But a planned launch this month was delayed by concerns about liability that nearly killed the deal. Via will not own the vans or directly employ the drivers, and the BCID did not want to be exposed to liability for accidents or other problems.
Starling, who announced the successful deal at the Jan. 9 meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, said in an interview afterward that the liability issue was resolved with insurance and various guarantees. The contract was signed last week, she said, and April 1 is the target date for the launch.