My Thoughts on the R-Line

An R-Line bus in front of the Raleigh Convention Center

One of downtown Raleigh’s hot topics this year has apparently been the R-Line. If you’ve been following, there are a slew of stories about the perceived unfairness of the fare-free bus circulator that operates seven days a week. With upcoming fare increases on other routes of the Capital Area Transit (CAT) system, the R-Line is being looked down upon by certain Raleigh individuals.

My take on this is that the R-Line is being politically micro-managed and we should let the transit planners have a say.

Background articles to read:

The route was first introduced in February of 2009 with a dedication ceremony in front of the Raleigh Convention Center. It’s important to note that the R-Line was one piece of a much larger puzzle. The Convention Center had just opened around that time. The Fayetteville Street makeover was still pretty fresh. City Plaza was less than a year old.

These were downtown improvements made to attract more visitors, create more spending, and create more businesses. From a city point of view, that means paying back the investment in downtown and generating more tax revenue. Cities do this to sustain a high-quality of life, which Raleigh has, with a fair or low cost of living.

A lot has happened over the last five years though.

Events have been one of the largest driving forces behind downtown Raleigh’s growth. Fayetteville Street events used to close off one or two blocks. Moore Square events could be contained within the park itself.

Today, downtown is bursting with events.

An interesting statistic would be the growth of attendance and size over the years. I would put money down that that number has increased year after year.

You have a pretty good chance of catching an event on Fayetteville Street on any given weekend these days. From mid-August to mid-October, downtown is crawling with events and people. Spring has another spike in events that seem to take over. Parking decks are as or more full on weekend nights as they are during the workweek hours any weekend of the year.

It also seems that every marathon that comes to town wants to run their route through downtown Raleigh. We’re not talking just a few, but several dozen closing streets on random weekends.

So what does the R-Line have to do with downtown being the host with most?

A strategy (the R-Line) to make our public investments (Convention Center) more attractive became hugely successful and everyone wants to get a piece of it.

And why was it successful? In my opinion, the R-Line is run like most bus routes should be run. No timetables and a higher frequency of buses passing by.

It was also the first city bus route, to my knowledge, in Raleigh to have GPS tracking. Those with smartphones could see the bus location before heading out to the bus stop. With all the amenities and ease of use, it was implemented very well and has become successful.

Over the years, Raleighites have adopted it. The original purpose is still intact, with the buses moving conventioneers around downtown. The event-driven downtown has used it for moving people between venues. The growing resident population has used it to travel between districts. With a stop near the Moore Square Transit Center, CAT riders have also used it as either the first or last leg of their trip when getting around.

With a diversity of riders, sounds like a success story to me.

Today, the R-Line’s fareless system is being picked on. With an upcoming 50-cent increase in fares over the next 2 years on every other CAT route, there are some vocal citizen advocates that think this unfair, with one individual quoted in an N&O article calling the R-Line racist.

Opinions and proposals on the R-Line aren’t hard to find either.

The articles linked above mention issues such as fairness, equity, and cost. Expanding the route would cost more. How can you make the R-Line more fair? Should all riders have equal access and the demographics of riders be diverse?

We’ve definitely lost sight of the original purpose of the service, which is to move visitors (from hotels and the convention center) around downtown.

An R-Line bus passing through Glenwood South

What we have today though is a situation where the R-Line is so successful that groups want to either copy the R-Line model or modify the current route to include their neighborhood or business, with complete disregard to the overall system that the R-Line is a part of.

In 2013, the Midtown Raleigh Alliance teased an idea of an M-Line between North Hills and Downtown Raleigh. I wrote about the idea and how it compared to the currently in place Route 8 – Northclift CAT route. They seem similar.

In 2011 and back again this year, Cameron Village and nearby residents are petitioning to change the R-Line route to serve the shopping center and the neighborhoods around it. I wrote about it back in 2011, and it’s pretty applicable this year too, that Route 12 – Method and Route 16 – Oberlin both have been providing a link to and from Cameron Village for years.

You also have residents in Oakwood and Mordecai that think the R-Line should swing more north to serve the growing Person Street District. In the linked articles, there are opinions that the R-Line should go more east instead of turning around Moore Square only. CAT routes serve those communities today.

Finally, I’ve heard that the upcoming 10-year Downtown Plan has a pretty healthy section on the R-Line. The draft release of that is scheduled for September 11, blog post on that soon.

It seems the R-Line has now become politically infested. It works so well that others are upset that it isn’t serving their communities. I predict any outright support for the R-Line would be seen as a politically bad move at this point.

I wrote this in the 2011 post about the R-Line going to Cameron Village:

“In my opinion, the petition just shows this area’s readiness for an upgrade in transit “

Raleigh, you are ready to level up. It is time to put on your big girl pants and commit to moving CAT to the next level.

Raleighites should stop picking on the R-Line and start getting behind seeing more money in the budget for the CAT system. Raleigh should hire some top transit talent to guide us in moving to the next level.

With a cohesive and easy to use transit system, funded by all Raleighites, priced fairly for the service it provides, we will stay on the top 10 lists for decades to come.

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  1. Leo – excellent piece. Thank you for mentioning the comment that woman made about the R-Line somehow being “racist” … absolutely ridiculous.

  2. The CAT buses need a serious rebranding. Their “rebranding” of a few years ago was basically the same thing that it was before. Modernize the buses for all routes to mimic the R-Line. Or at the very minimum, paint the dang these something that is not 70’s style!

    Little things like that would increase ridership for other lines of the system and would help for those routes to feel equal to the R-line.

  3. I love the R-Line. I pick it up right downstairs from my apartment next to Moore Square and take it to Glenwood South for work, then back again every day. These ideas to expand it further would make it far too bloated. Hope it remains intact as is.

  4. I agree with Jake and Mike.

    First, I am sick of the racist claim for everything that disproportionately affects people of one race. There’s other factors at play besides racism. If poor people take the bus more, and more black people than white people are poor, the bus system isn’t racially biased. It is economically biased, and by biased I mean it serves many people who can’t afford to drive a car.

    Second, the buses look like crap. I think the impact that imaging, marketing, and word of mouth plays is drastically underappreciated. One of the reasons I have an emotionally positive response to light rail is that I envision it to look/be clean, modern, and attractive. This is completely separate to pragmatic matters like efficiency, location, and financial stability. However, the bus system now may have some success with the latter categories, but it is underused in large part because of its image. I think a complete rebranding, in conjunction with redesigned routes, bus shelters, maps, and fares, would serve both the conventional riders, the hesitant prospective riders, and the future potential riders yet to come.

  5. I’ll have to check but I’m pretty sure that those of us who live in the DT overlay district pay additional property taxes for a variety of DT services that are available to everyone. From what I remember, this includes those ambassadors, the additional trash cans and, if I remember correctly, the RLine.
    This is on top of the fact that DT taxes already subsidize the suburban parts of the city that don’t generate enough tax revenue to sustain their infrastructure footprint. It’s also on top of the fact that I pay more property tax on my 1000 SF condo than my mother pays on her house in north Raleigh that’s more than twice the size of my place. I am really getting sick and tired of all the whining when the whiners are often the ones who benefit (overall) from the current system in place. Sheesh.

  6. CAT actually will be doing a lot with the fair increase that doesn’t seem to be mentioned. In January of 2015, CAT will have three bus lines running at 15 minute head ways on the 1, 7, and 15. CAT will be also extending service on holidays. There will also be other service increases and new routes in the next few years that this fare increase will help pay for. Unfortunately, that is not stated and it does look like a racial issue in the eyes of some of the riders because the R Line operates exclusively in downtown, which does have a higher demographic of white residents. I grew up on the south side of Raleigh (Rush St/Garner Rd area) but I’ve also since left and have also educated myself with a Bachelors degree and currently working on a Masters so I can see both sides of the argument.

  7. The ONE big thing CAT needs to do is run later than they do currently. My roommates take the bus – and constantly running into problems when getting off work late, esp on Sundays. A public transportation needs to be available MOST of the day, or it’s not really gonna be taken seriously. Imagine if the bus ran till 2-3 o’clock even; anyone who lived right outside the city, as we do, or even just outside downtown, would be SO much more inclined to take the bus to go downtown and have a good time, and know they have a D.D. back home. Plus, Raleigh, as a CITY, needs to embrace the nightlife a little more….. I’ve been here 6 six years, and I love all the change I’ve seen so far… but most things still close down so EARLY here! Ok… that’s my two cents.

  8. But, yes, Bryan – those changes coming to CAT sound great! The better CAT gets, the less inclined I’ll be to drive my car to/from the city.

  9. Good points about the connections between the R-Line and successes in DTR. The R-Line has been and continues to an integral part of those successes and not just a result of those successes.

    That said, the recognition of transit being an economic development tool for neighborhoods other than Downtown is a big win for Raleigh. We (as a community) has to decide how to leverage this tool in varying intensities and modes. Lucky for us, there are already fine example to pull from, including the R-Line.

  10. The problem with light rail is that it would have to be one hell of a system to service any significant portion of the population. Raleigh is scattered and spread thin, moreover, most people don’t necessarily migrate inbound/outbound on a daily basis. Cars are king, sad but true…

    This, of course, is not to say it shouldn’t be built.

  11. Here’s an idea, extend Bus service to 12 am. You do have folks that work past 5:00 pm. Also if you are going Downtown to Party,you can leave your car at home,have a few drinks,and hop back on the Bus to go home. At least you are not Drinking and Driving and everyone is safe. Also you have Seniors that rely on City Buses to get around town. It’s time for Raleigh to take the Next Step and Start Improving services,add more Bus Shelters and maps to the City.

  12. Really getting irritated with the crybabies bashing the R-line for its “unfairness”. The R-line isn’t a metro circulation system, so stop comparing the two. The purpose of the R-line is to get people/visitors around the urban core and that’s it. Plenty of cities have a free urban circulation transit system (see: Salt Lake City)

    I remember David Diaz of the Downtown Alliance hinting that the circulation route would be revised, but overall I like the service. A stop at Cameron Village would be nice though.

  13. @Steve – Parts of the city are very dense. The Hillsborough street corridor that it would serve has 40,000 students right there–many of whom are carless, who would make heavy use of the rail line to get to games, or downtown, or head over to Durham or Chapel Hill. And there’s another 40,000 at the other colleges. And there’s the faculty at those universities–many of whom would rather not pay $300 for a parking permit (which is really more like a hunting permit).

    It’s also a long-term investment. Yeah, the train wouldn’t go to the airport right away but even if I have to take a shuttle for that last stretch, I’ll probably take it to the airport every time. It would be far cheaper than parking at the airport or taking a cab. Also, parking is abundant and easy and cheap in Raleigh right now, and the traffic is reasonable for now… but what about in a couple decades when the population living downtown is 3x, 4x greater?

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