Gerlach–Empire Shuttle Bus Shutting Down

Photo by Fred Whitman

For many years, Burning Man ran a shuttle bus service between Black Rock City and the towns of Gerlach and Empire. During the early years of high demand, two buses alternated the circuit, offering the shuttle service on an hourly basis. Over the years we reduced the schedule to better match decreasing ridership, which has been a steady trend since 2010. We were down to one bus making the two-hour run three times a day, twice on Saturday, and some of the later runs had a single rider. 2016 saw the lowest ridership in an eight-year period.

Some blame The Kid, Burning Man’s Gerlach-Empire shuttle depot manager between the reigns of The Owl and Human Jones. The Kid’s style of managing the shuttle bus operations was to gently interrogate riders as to why they would ever want to leave Black Rock City on such a beautiful day?

Fred, a.k.a. The Owl, original manager of the bus depot (Photo by Denny Smith)

I’m sure his passing resemblance to professional wrestler Hulk Hogan had no influence. The Kid also portrayed a famous “you shall not pass!” wizard on a local TV spot. Coincidence?

We want to thank our Empire–Gerlach shuttle bus provider, Green Tortoise, depot managers The Owl, The Kid, Human Jones and especially all the volunteers over the years who sold bus tickets and we’re sure mostly correctly answered general questions for anyone who walked up to the ticket booth. We hope some of these volunteers will join the growing crews supporting Burner Express Bus and Air.

Participants still have the option to leave and return by personal vehicle for an in and out fee of $20 per person.


Top photo by Fred Whitman. Sorry they’re so blurry — they’re classics.

About the author: Terry "Retro" Schoop

Terry

As manager of the Community Services Department, Terry oversees the planning, budgets, management, and operations of nine volunteer-staffed teams that are dedicated to providing Burning Man participants with vital public services at our event: BRC Municipal Airport, Earth Guardians, Greeters, Lamplighters, Placement, Playa Info, Recycle Camp, and the Volunteer Resource Team. As a core member of the BRC Ops Team and a member of the Event Leadership Team, Terry collaborates on the management of event-related issues affecting public welfare and resource management.

29 Comments on “Gerlach–Empire Shuttle Bus Shutting Down

  • Tbone says:

    Since the airport has changed in function from a place where small craft operators could operate, into a Commodified space which allows the Parasite Class to fly in for the weekend to catch their favorite Default World Celebrities at Robot Heart ™ and White Privilege Ocean, why have we not changed the way it operates? My suggestion is, let Paris Hilton, Google Executives, and that hot chick in the black feathers on Instagram simply pay a moderate tax on their Commodification of our resources, and then hire a staff to accommodate their needs? I mean, if an observer of the event is wealthy enough to fly in, carrying nothing but their clothing, if that, and then expect to be driven to their rented and stocked RVs at one of the many BMORG-sanctioned plug-n-play commodification camps, why should actual Burners who work and contribute volunteer our time to serve their needs? Spare me the “Radical Inclusion” excuse which is the perpetual defensive whine from the EDM/Ibiza/Silicon Valley crowd. I’d like to actually know why anyone associated with the Burn would expect us to work free of charge so useless takers can live in luxury at Coachella August.

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    • Ark says:

      I second this. Basically we’re just providing a backdrop for the rich guys to enjoy.

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    • samson says:

      Not everybody flying in is wealthy, though, that’s just your snap judgement of a complex situation. I know some dirt poor people who fly in, it really isn’t all luxury planes and supermodels out there. Maybe you could go volunteer at the airport to learn more about it?

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      • Hobo burner says:

        I spent some time out there last year observing the scene. Sure some are awesome skydivers, plane fanatics and such, but the majority were well-off glampers headed to one of the all ready to go for you kind of camps. Couldn’t go back for a second visit, it bummed me out too much there.

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    • Lightman says:

      I’m really not sure how this relates to the shuttle bus. At all.

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  • dragnet says:

    Thanks terry! Fred – “The Owl” was the person responsible for getting the bus up and running. He took care of all the work it took to originally get it running, involving our BlinkingMan Camp and Department of Tethered Aviation (DOTA) to volunteer to make it happen. Jim came along as an early volunteer and took over the leadership after Fred stepped down….Jim has done a great job, making the wait fun for the riders……in the early days it was splendid – no cell service!….. some had to escape into empire or gerlach to make a phone call, or change a flat tire…….we had dusty fun entertaining the customers, another way to volunteer! Congrats to The Owl and Jimmy the Kid for their great work helping the people who needed to briefly get into town…..Blinkingman camp continues on the playa- now get jim a ticket so he can get back out there!

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    • Retro says:

      And Human Jones has been ‘driving the bus’ since The Kid stepped down, doing a great job of volunteer care and feeding. I hear you can say hello to him at Playa Info this year.

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  • darcitananda says:

    It’s the end of an era I guess. :( It wasn’t just a bus depot, it was spontaneous counseling, stand-up comedy, and so much more. Will always remember the Bus Depot days with fondness.

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  • Ty says:

    Hey TBone!, I know your comments were an exercise in humor, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. I did my 18th year in a row at Black Rock City last year. I sleep in a tent, on the ground, every year. I flew into Black Rock City last year for the first time: because it was $700 cheaper than renting a mid-sized car, it also saved me 10 to 17 hours of driving, and waiting in line at the gate going in and the exodus, PLUS I didn’t have to clean my rent car 3 times to get back my $250 deposit. All of this saved time and money (over $1,000!!!!) went DIRECTLY into my art installation in Black Rock City last year. Sorry to speak in single declarative sentences, but sprinkling a few facts into the conversation seemed to be in order. And Terry? —- thanks for posting the useful information. Your note was the first I heard about this milestone event.

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  • Mark McCormack says:

    If you go out in your own vehicle for a quick run to empire, do you have to sit in line to get back in / onto the playa? Or do you get a front of the line pass?

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    • Retro says:

      from Gate: Anyone coming into the city will get processed in the same way; ‘first come, first serve.” Gate would recommend bringing all of your supplies with you to last the entirety of your stay in Black Rock City so that you do not have to leave. If you do need to get something, I would reach out to your community before leaving the city. Your neighbor would probably love to gift it to you! If you absolutely HAVE to leave BRC, try to time it for non-peak hours of traffic. Early mornings after Tuesday of event week tend to have shorter wait times and the businesses in Gerlach and Empire will be open. Good luck, and may the lines be ever in your favor.

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      • Ark says:

        Perhaps it’s worth considering letting people going out use the express lanes back in?

        This would benefit the Gerlach economy for sure, because more people would be happy to do quick shopping runs not worrying about waiting in the queue on the way back.

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      • darcitananda says:

        Yes, because your neighbor will just happen to have a fuel filter or spark plug for your 2001 Volvo? This really is a super bummer that people will now have to wait in line again to re-enter. Having worked in the Bus Depot, I can assure you that most of the cases of people needing to leave Playa temporarily were NOT seeking a vodka run, blinkie lights, or a hot shower in Gerlach. In my opinion, the decrease in ridership was due to the service not being properly promoted.

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      • Rockstar says:

        I’d be willing to bet in a few years a demand will be made that for a significantly larger exit fee a wealthy person will get a VIP lane so they are not required to spend time in line with the unwashed masses that are only there to serve and entertain them.

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    • Pantsless Santa says:

      The lanes are not too busy mid-week when people are most likely to need the ol’ in-and-out.

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  • toktomi says:

    Just like there is really something still to say other than, “give it a rest”.

    Or as Tracy Ullman would close her show, “Go home!”

    ~toktomi~

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  • Captain Cookie says:

    Perhaps the decline in ridership reflects the better preparedness of Burners and the effectiveness of the information on Burningman.org on what to bring to BRC.

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    • JimmytheKid says:

      Captain you are so right! In my opinion I truly believe that burners became more prepared, and made sure their friends did as well …all to enhance their burn experience and maximize playa time. The ultimate convenience was that $5 round trip ticket for a ‘2 hour tour….a 2 hour tour’. It was not hard to convince our motley crew of volunteers that the sound basis of our duties was harass and interrogate all who wanted the luxury round trip tour of Gerlach and Empire. And let’s not forget the promise that your wristband also entitled each passenger a free ride down Gerlach’s infamous water slide behind the water tower! Someone from the previous years ride into town actually had the gall to question me on the ‘slides’ wherebouts, to which I replied, ‘well did you walk back by the water tower to find it, or just look from the street’? Their reply was obvious, they did not look close enough! Thanks for the run to Retro and the Green Tortoise….it was a blast!

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  • Transition says:

    I rode on the bus once. It was extremely helpful. Absolutely had to make a certain phone call. Sad to see it go. Anything we can do to change your minds? Would even help if it ran only 1x or 2x during the week.

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  • Pantsless Santa says:

    Make a sign saying where you want to go and hitchhike from the greeters station – offer your share of the in and out fee. Simple. Probably wouldn’t have to wait long at all.

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  • Lora Green says:

    What sad news! The Green Family (Lora, Gordy & Becca – aka DasBus/GKOTU former Mayor of Kidsville), are returning to the playa after being gone 5 years! Becca LOVED putting the wristbands on people. We will miss having the opportunity to volunteer.

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  • Human Jones says:

    Thank you all. The Shuttle has simply stopped being a viable source of transport in and out of our city. Cell service has now become available within our borders. I would like to also think that people are just getting better at bringing what they need. My first year as lead had us giving rides to those who brought only 2 packs of smokes and 2 six packs of beer. They both lasted from Monday till 10PM Monday. It is amazing just how many friends these people did not know they had at Burning Man. We have never had that kind of situational rider since 2014. Operating a bus daily for only 2 or 3 riders a day is just not doable. Maybe things will change but for now, I can only say “Keep remembering your supplies”.

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  • Thank you all! It is wonderful to see such an implication and commitment!

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  • Lifeisshort says:

    This is just SAD.. I think you should rethink this decision.

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  • Alanna says:

    Aww!! The Bus Depot was a happy camp full of jokers, real BM old timers, and a big welcoming hug for newbies and new volunteers. Human and Jimmy… thanks for the memories. Hopefully we’ll all roll in at midnight again and find you in our camp on the outskirts or wherever we land. And the Kid was known to have newbies kick folks, gently, off the bus depot benches because “they weren’t allowed to sit there.” That’s the real reason it’s being shut down :/

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  • CapnJoe says:

    More money for Larry, less service for participants.

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  • Macdougall says:

    Why the F… cant there be railroad train service stop in Gerlach? The tracks/station are right there? This would surely increase the need for a bus stop. Can anybody with $$$ persuade Amtrak/Western pacific/ Central pacific/ Union pacific et.all to provide a once a year charter service. If it was an option it would be booked NOW. Already sold out

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