RALEIGH — On the business first weekend, John Parks gripped the steering wheel, white knuckles glowing, as he steered the giant vehicle full of spirited festival goers through the curves of Wade Avenue in the rain.
Nearly a year later, however, he has the hang of it.
It is totally easy. It is the same as driving a car, said John Parks, 33, who started regularly bridging the late-night weekend transportation gap between Raleigh and Durham in an orange bus in October 2012. You just get used to it.
Almost every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night between 5:50 p.m. and 2 a.m., John Parks drives a 33-foot 2001 Blue Bird bus full of customers from Durham to Raleigh and back four times. The bus has two stops in each city. Some weekends, the bus is used as a private charter for events such as Durhams Third Friday culture crawl.
Parks, and his wife Molly, 34, a clinical psychologist and Durham native, moved to the Bull City in 2009. The couple started earnestly considering providing a shuttle service when they realized there wasnt an affordable transportation option between the two cities on weekend nights.
In 2011, the couple welcomed their first daughter, Adeline, now 2, and started taking steps to build The Bridge Bus business.
The Parks saved money, completed a business plan and sought feedback from friends and family with financial and entrepreneur backgrounds. They also met with Durham city officials to educate themselves on restrictions. They bought the bus then white with 35,000 miles and John Parks sought a commercial driver license and a for-hire permit, which allowed him to shuttle passengers.
Under the shuttle status, Parks cant circle an area like a taxi, and he must offer customers a pay-before-you-ride option. The Bridge Bus takes walk-on customers, but the Parks prefer that people buy tickets on the company website.
The Parks made improvements to the bus sound system, added interior lights and painted it orange.
It isnt as simple as picking a color when you live in a place that is so polarized about colors with sports affiliations, John Parks said.
Molly Parks oversees the finances and behind-the-scenes logistics, and John Parks drives.
In August 2012, John Parks started promoting the bus by handing out cards, posting on social media, sending out emails to neighborhood listservs and hiring a company to distribute posters. In September, he provided a shuttle to Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh and later did the same for World Beer Festival in Durham.
About 60 percent of his riders go from Durham to Raleigh, but Raleigh residents use the bus for events such as Durham Bulls games and shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Meanwhile, John Parks has continued to build relationships with businesses near his stops.
Kings Barcade in Raleigh and Motorco in Durham provide links to The Bridge Bus on their websites.
It makes sense for The Bridge Bus to work with those businesses, John Parks said.
They want to sell tickets and I want to sell tickets, he said.