Washington, D.C. is notorious for its awful beltway traffic. Commuters are familiar with the hot spots in the daily traffic reports. “There are backups at the I-95 interchange,” “it slows around the Mixing Bowl,” and “Watch for stopped vehicles between Georgia Avenue and the Mormon temple.”
That’s right. It’s hard to be a commuter in Washington, D.C. and not know how hard it is to fight traffic to get to the temple.
Enter the Saunders Brothers, Paul and Steve, Washington, D.C. natives from the Mount Vernon Stake, two men who saw a problem and set out to fix it.
The story begins in in January 2011, after a stake temple night. Both brothers were DC temple workers at the time. They noticed there was low attendance from their stake at the temple that night. Even though the Mount Vernon Stake is only roughly 23 miles from the temple, it can take anywhere from 1-2 hours to make the drive during rush hour, and that’s assuming vehicle occupancy restrictions work in your favor.
The brothers realized one of the biggest obstacles people faced in getting to the temple on a weeknight was that the Metro system doesn’t extend out to the temple. And navigating the beltway can take too long. They wondered if it was possible to overcome the Metro and traffic problems and joked about just extending the Metro yellow line to the D.C. temple. But then realized, it would be far more practical to create a shuttle from the red line that could bypass the beltway altogether.
With a heart set in the right direction, and wanting to help fill the temple, they imagined large bus loads coming from the Metro. Within a week they had registered the www.templeshuttle.org domain name.
A Shuttle is Born
After their initial brainstorm, they began to explore their options. They rode the Metro from the city to the temple to time how long it took on average to get to the temple during rush hour. They tested it with one brother on the Metro and one driving to see which took longer. They also timed driving from the temple to nearby Metro stops during rush hour from both sides of the red line.
One day when they tested Fort Totten, Steve metro’d to that stop and waited while Paul drove from the temple to pick him up. It was winter and especially cold that day. Paul took over half hour while Steve ended up waiting in a 7-11 due to the cold and because Paul took so long to come pick him up. From that, they were surprised that the Metro outperformed bad local traffic. From there they decided that the Forest Glen Metro stop would be the best option during rush hour.
Now that they knew where to run a shuttle from there were bigger hurdles to jump. How to fund it? Where to get a shuttle? Input from friends and advisors helped them set up a nonprofit, with Paul as the president.
Next, it was time to buy a shuttle. They searched quite a bit for shuttles. But in April 2011, just 3 months after the idea was born, Paul found a shuttle on eBay, decided it was the one, and bought it the same day. The brothers took a bus up to New York and stayed the night with cousins and the next day, April 9, 2011, took the train to Queens, paid $2,650 cash, and hoped the shuttle would make it home.
That first shuttle was only expected to last six months to a year. It was purchased to test the idea of temple shuttle. Admittedly, the shuttle has spent some quality time in the repair shop over the last four years.
The Temple Shuttle officially began service Wednesday, June 22, 2011. Steve gave one ride that night. Paul drove the next night and gave 8 rides. There was a total of eleven rides the first week. (That was the last time they offered rides on a Saturday as Metro often is doing track maintenance on the weekends, and people can drive easier).
“The first week we started out driving on a schedule driving back and forth whether we had a rider or not. We quickly changed to only drive when we had riders, the shuttle parked waiting at the metro the first half of the night and the temple the last half.”
The shuttle operates on a limited schedule, weeknights, Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 to 10:00pm. Riders are advised to check the website for any announcements.
A Shuttle Runs
The shuttle was originally financed by Paul, who was willing to take the loss if the experiment failed. Since then, Steve found potential foundations to apply for grants. Most foundations wouldn’t consider the shuttle, and in the brothers’ words, “there couldn’t be a worse category to be in for fund raising.”
In the first year, they tried fund raisers and tried to solicit donations, with hopes of subscribing a high volume of small recurring donations to cover operating costs. There were also hopes that local support via fund raisers would supportive. This was not the case. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to pay a driver as originally planned. Paul and Steve, along with help from their brother Brian, do all of the driving.
A few friends of the brothers actually signed up for generous recurring donations. Multiple riders did as well. So many people offered cash donations on the shuttle, they finally put out a can and accepted cash donations on the shuttle. The website makes it clear that it is free to ride the shuttle, but donations have been accepted via their website since its launch. The suggested recurring, tax deductible, donation is a mere $2 a month.
“If it were solely up to donations, we would have closed our doors a long time ago,” Paul said. “Miraculously, the Sorenson Legacy Foundation gave us a $15,000 grant in 2012. All of our other applications were denied that year. If we didn’t get this we would’ve stopped.”
A friend of Steve took the time to help him understand how foundations work. If it weren’t for her, they never would have asked Sorenson for more money the following years. They thought grants were a one- time deal. (That’s why they asked for $15,000 so they could pay Paul back.) “If we would’ve known better we would’ve never asked anyone for more than $5,000.”
Thanks to the friend and Sorenson the Temple Shuttle continues to operate year after year. In 2013, they also received a new grant from Ashton Family Foundation. These are the only two foundations that have ever granted them any money. With these annual grants from Sorenson Legacy and Ashton Family Foundations and shuttle rider donations we are able to cover the operating expenses.
The Saunders Boys
Since its launch, the brothers have given over 10,000 rides, with an average of 55 rides per week. It’s very rare that there is a day that no one rides. The brothers continue to run the shuttle themselves, with input from a small board. Paul is 35 and Steve 40. Both brothers are D.C. natives and single. “We have been jokingly accused of starting Temple Shuttle to meet single women. We wish we were that strategic. But it’s not the case and we’re both still single,” shared Paul.
The brothers share a vision of opening up a temple shuttle service in other major cities where the need is warranted. The only thing holding them back is the money and donations to do so.
You can learn more details, or schedule a ride, at www.templeshuttle.org.
Erin Ann McBride is a writer, dreamer, and single woman. By day she works in marketing, and by night she hunts unicorns and writes romantic novels, “You Heard It Here First,” and the sequel “This Just In!”
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