Free downtown Dayton bus service: ‘We see this as the beginning’

The Flyer will be a free downtown Dayton shuttle service that travels in a loop from Brown Street to Monument Avenue. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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The Flyer will be a free downtown Dayton shuttle service that travels in a loop from Brown Street to Monument Avenue. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Two of the most buzz-worthy additions to downtown Dayton this year do not charge user fees or admission: the Levitt music pavilion and the Flyer shuttle bus.

Free entertainment and free transit are vital parts of efforts to get more people downtown and make it easy for people to get around.

The Flyer, which launches next month and will connect activity centers, could be just the start of free circulator transit service in the Dayton area.

The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority expects its free shuttles will be very popular, especially among people who don’t traditionally use public transit, said Jessica Olson, communications manager with the Greater Dayton RTA.

MORE: Downtown Dayton will get free shuttles

If the Flyer is that popular, RTA has additional buses it can commit to the service, Olson said.

“Without question, we see this as the beginning,” she said.

Free music came downtown in August when the Levitt Pavilion Dayton opened at Dave Hall Plaza.

A roughly $5 million investment transformed what was an aging and rarely used park into an attractive, state-of-the-art amphitheater.

The Levitt, which is part of a national network of free music venues, hosted 33 free concerts this year and will offer at least 50 no-cost shows every year moving forward. The inaugural season brought 25,000 people to the urban center.

The Levitt was credited with boosting sales at some local nearby businesses, such as bars, restaurants and shops.

The Levitt is supposed to be part of downtown’s living room — a centerpiece of a redevelopment strategy for a nine-block area that is supposed to become a thriving urban neighborhood.

“It is a major asset for us to have, and putting it in our downtown living room was important to us,” said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein. “We thought the impact would be greatest if it was an area that it could help activate and attract further development.”

Last week, the Greater Dayton RTA revealed it will launch a free shuttle service on Nov. 9 called the Flyer.

Flyer shuttles will run along a short loop from Brown Street to Monument Avenue.

The service seeks to connect workers to parking options not in the immediate vicinity of their workplaces.

About 1,000 employees, including many Premier Health and CareSource workers, are expected to use the shuttles on a daily basis, Olson said. Some employees will park at the Transportation Center or City Hall parking garage, blocks from their work sites.

Flyer riders will be able to quickly hop between destinations like RiverScape, the Levitt, the Schuster Center, the Oregon District, Brown Street and the Dayton Arcade.

The Flyer service is similar to the free shuttles the RTA has operated for years that ferry people from downtown to Oktoberfest at the Dayton Art Institute.

The agency also provides free bus service to RiverScape for large festivals like the Germanfest Picnic and Celtic Fest.

The circulator seeks to build “thoughtful connections” from UD to RiverScape, Dickstein said.

The Flyer will make it a cinch for UD students to get downtown.

The University of Dayton is a crucial partner in the proposed redevelopment of the Dayton Arcade. UD only wants to commit to the project if there is free shuttle service for its students to use.

The Flyer “will be greatly impactful for our downtown economy and our economic development strategy around the arcade,” Dickstein said.

“We have seen in other cities that convenient, reliable, free and frequent transportation is vital to ensuring the campus community has access to the downtown space,” said UD President Eric Spina.

Flyer shuttles are expected to be used by a different clientele than RTA’s traditional customer base.

Most RTA riders lack reliable access to cars and use public transit to get to work, Olson said.

Many Flyer riders are expected to be car-owners who want to easily and quickly get around downtown without having to move their parked vehicles, she said.

“We are expecting a lot of people who have never ridden a bus before,” Olson said.

The Flyer shuttles have 23 seats and some standing room. Initially, there will be three Flyer shuttles operating simultaneously so they arrive at stops every 10 minutes or less, officials said.

Olson said the RTA will consider expanding the service and possibly launching similar programs in other parts of the Dayton area.

“Really to us, the only question is will we be expanding the service, and if we expand the service and add additional Flyer-type service somewhere else, what would that look like?” she said.

The RTA is dedicated to improving accessibility and connectivity, which is why the agency operates bus service to job centers like Procter & Gamble’s facility in Union and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Olson said.

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