The launch of an on-demand, low-cost shuttle van service in central Buckhead’s business and residential districts is expected to come in August after a lengthy pandemic delay.

“We’ve decided, based upon what we’re hearing from the offices here and the tenants, that if we bring that back in August, there will be enough folks that will be interested in using the service,” said Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, at the group’s April 28 board meeting.

A Via-operated on-demand shuttle van in Arlington, Texas, as shown in a promotional video.

The BCID and Livable Buckhead are partnering on the shuttle, which would replace the existing, fixed-route “Buc” service. 

The on-demand van was supposed to launch in April 2020 before the pandemic lockdowns ended the possibility and changed commuting patterns. 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. In the original plan, the fare was to be $3 a ride – and free for any trip to or from a MARTA station.

Durrett said CID staff will return to the board in July with an updated budget request. Durrett also sits on MARTA’s board of directors and said the transit agency is interested in ways to “integrate” the Via shuttles with its bus services.

Police bikes and water sellers

The CID approved $310,000 in funding for Atlanta Police Department bicycle patrols in the area, with four officers pedaling Monday through Friday. 

APD Sgt. Daniel Funderberck told the CID board that the bike patrols have helped to tackle the issue of young people illicitly selling water on the street, a practice that has generated major citywide controversy. Buckhead’s Zone 2 officers have been more crackdown-oriented, while Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms put together a panel that advised finding entrepreneurial programs for the so-called water boys.

“What can we do to make the water boys go away?” asks CID project manager Tony Peters, summing up much of the board’s sentiment.

Funderberck said police crackdowns mostly just displace illicit activity. “We push crime [elsewhere]. Let’s just be honest,” he said, adding that “my plan of action is to just keep on seizing their product,” as they will eventually leave when they lack the bottled water to sell.

Herbert Ames, a board member from the real estate company EDENS, suggested some type of educational campaign against the water-sellers. That led Funderberck to suggest policing alternatives.

“You want to be careful about making these guys out to be scary guys, because they’re kids,” said Funderberck. But, he added, some people feel sympathetic toward the water-sellers even though some of them “have robbed people who haven’t given them a dollar for a bottle of water.”

Funderberck suggested the CID consider making an area where water-selling could happen or a program where youths could learn other types of business. “Maybe there is something we can create for them” and “harness this entrepreneurial spirit, because the criminal part will leave — they’re not going to participate…,” he said. CID board chair Thad Ellis of the real estate company Cousins Properties said they could have further discussions about some existing programs.

Speeding up road projects

The Buckhead CID and its counterparts in Downtown and Midtown will collaborate on a $100,000 study aimed at speeding up how they collaborate with the city on street and sidewalk projects. 

Durrett said the study comes out of frustrations with how long such projects can take. The Buckhead CID board agreed to contribute $30,000 to the study, which Durrett said would likely take months to conduct and examine practices at the state and other local cities as well. 

Durrett said the CID has been in touch with Josh Rowan, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation, and City Councilmember Andre Dickens, who chairs the Transportation Committee.

John Ruch

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