From state transportation officials to shop owners, plenty of people are weighing in on the future of Raleigh’s R-Line downtown circulator bus.
N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata has met with city transit officials to voice equity concerns about the free bus line. Raleigh will be raising fares on all other bus lines starting in October, and some think R-Line riders should also pay their way.
Meanwhile, a review of the R-Line route has sparked several requests for new stops outside downtown. Cameron Village businesses want the bus line extended to their shopping center. St. Augustine’s University leaders want it to connect their campus to downtown. And some Southeast Raleigh neighborhood groups think it should come down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Capital Area Transit administrator David Eatman said the city is listening.
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“We just want to make sure that as we look toward changing the R-Line or taking the R-Line to the next level, that we involve all stakeholders and make sure we receive adequate feedback,” he said.
Tata held an Aug. 18 meeting with Eatman and neighborhood leaders Octavia Rainey and Danny Coleman, who say it’s unfair to keep the R-Line free while hiking fares on CAT’s low-income, predominantly black ridership. Tata said through a spokesman that those represent “some valid questions” about Raleigh’s transit service.
“It was a positive discussion, in which all sides agreed to keep the lines of communication open and consider concerns raised,” DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said. “No decisions were made, and Secretary Tata’s only role was that of a facilitator who listened to all information presented.”
Rainey said she was pleased with how Tata has handled the issue.
“It was good having somebody else at the table who doesn’t have to report to the city council,” she said, adding that she has another meeting scheduled with DOT officials this week.
Eatman said CAT provided Tata with details of the city’s fare equity analysis, a federally mandated study required ahead of a fare increase.
“The secretary’s main interest was in making sure that if we look at expanding the R-Line, we do that in an equitable way,” Eatman said.
The city is studying the R-Line as part of a larger downtown planning process, and it recently issued a survey asking residents to weigh in on the bus service. Requests are rolling in to expand the route in a variety of different directions.
To the west, Cameron Village businesses are asking customers to sign a petition for the R-Line to extend there. The nearest R-Line stop is almost a mile away, and expanding the loop could significantly increase the cost of the service – already running $1 million a year.
But with new apartments opening up, Cameron Village wants a quick connection to the amenities of downtown.
“All of those people want to ride the R-Line downtown,” the shopping center’s Lynne Worth told the Raleigh Transit Authority recently. “Cameron Village is a very important footprint of the downtown area, and we need for it to be there.”
Transit officials said that the shopping center could also promote the existing bus service. Two bus lines run through the center with service every 15 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush.
Cameron Village isn’t the only area courting the R-Line. Leaders from St. Augustine’s University also attended the meeting with Tata, and they’d like the route to come about 10 blocks further east to the campus.
“A number of our students want to access downtown and want to take advantage of the social and cultural opportunities,” said Roland Bullard, the university’s vice president for student development.
Bullard said the campus is too far from downtown to walk, and the current bus service is “not particularly convenient.”
The university’s request comes in addition to one from Southeast Raleigh. Leaders there hope the service will extend to the former Kroger at Martin Luther King and Raleigh Boulevard where Variety Wholesalers is opening a new grocery.
A first draft of the downtown plan will be released Sept. 11, but transportation operations manager Mike Kennon says specific recommendations for the R-Line won’t be finished until a later phase of the plan.