A study of downtown’s free R-Line bus service suggests a shorter route to better serve popular stops around Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South.
The recommendation – presented this month as part of a larger downtown planning effort – is the opposite of what some neighborhood, college and business leaders want to see. Since Raleigh leaders announced the R-Line’s review, they’ve gotten requests to extend the route to Cameron Village, St. Augustine’s University and Southeast Raleigh.
Consultants with Kimley-Horn surveyed riders, many of whom said the loop around downtown is already too long.
“The ridership is not great,” consultant Richard Adams said. “Sometimes those trips are not very convenient on a long loop.”
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The bus makes a one-way loop, meaning that riders headed from Moore Square to the Warehouse District must first travel through Seaboard Station and Glenwood South. It can be faster to walk.
Adams also found that some R-Line stops don’t get much use, particularly those around the state government complex and Seaboard Station. Most riders tend to get on around the Raleigh Convention Center or at Glenwood South, the study found.
The study proposes cutting the less popular parts of the route, reducing the loop to a shuttle service between the Fayetteville Street area and Glenwood South.
Depending on the exact route, Raleigh could shave up to 0.8 miles off the loop, allowing for more frequent service or a reduced cost. The service has been costing the city about $1 million a year, and it’s drawn criticism because Raleigh will raise bus fares on other routes starting this October.
David Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said the recommendations make sense.
“Part of it is trying to make this service more customer friendly when taxpayers are footing the bill,” he said. “The R-Line needs to do one thing very well, and it seems like we’ve got two areas with 50-plus restaurants and shops” where riders want to go.
While the shorter route wouldn’t serve the fast-growing Seaboard Station and North Person Street districts, Diaz said he doesn’t think the change would harm businesses there.
“It would be a stretch to argue that there would be some negative impact,” he said.
Areas like North Person Street, Cameron Village and North Hills already have direct service to downtown on existing Capital Area Transit lines. But the study suggests boosting those routes, and Diaz says better bus service throughout Raleigh would help address the strong demand for an R-Line extension.
“It’s all the more reason that we need to double the number of buses in our fleet,” he said.
Kimley-Horn’s study didn’t address the R-Line’s fare issue, so it will likely fall to city leaders to decide whether riders should pay.
Community leaders in Southeast Raleigh say it’s unfair that the downtown crowd gets a free ride while commuters and low-income residents are forced to pay more for essential trips to work and the grocery store.