Free bus shuttle being launched in downtown Dayton. Video edited by Amelia Robinson.

Free downtown Dayton shuttle doubling initial target for riders

Dayton’s free shuttle service launched less than six months ago, but already buses are packed at lunchtime and after work, and new riders are discovering the service almost every day.

The Flyer shuttle’s ridership has far exceeded the expectations of the Greater Dayton RTA, which expects to spend about $1.1 million annually operating the service, with $300,000 coming from partners.

“Our CEO told our board a few weeks ago that he envisioned that the bus would be success if the route had about an 800 daily ridership,” said Jessica Olson, Greater Dayton RTA’s communications manager. “We are more than double that at this point.”

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The Flyer is fast, frequent and free, which is a winning combination that has attracted non-traditional transit riders who like how easy and convenient the shuttles make it to get around downtown and Brown Street, Olson said. The Flyer already is the RTA’s fifth most productive route, based on passengers per hour.

The RTA is working to rebrand two larger buses to serve as reserve Flyer vehicles, and there’s already been some discussions about expanding the free bus service to other parts of the city.

The Flyer has helped the foot traffic at businesses across downtown and Brown Street, supporters said, and the service will be vital for University of Dayton students to travel between campus and the Dayton Arcade.

“The Flyer shuttle is great for Dayton businesses,” said Sue Brandell, owner of Jimmie’s Ladder 11 on Brown Street. “The stops and schedule make it convenient for folks to stop into Ladder 11 for lunch or dinner then head off in either direction whenever they’re ready.”

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The Flyer’s weekday ridership has increased every month since the service launched on Nov. 9.

In April, the shuttles averaged 1,646 daily riders, which was up 26 percent from March. Weekday ridership has grown from 635 in November.

Shuttles run Monday to Saturday, and Saturday ridership increased to 682 riders in April from 413 in March. 

RTA covers most of the cost using local sales tax collections and federal grants, but partners Premier Health and CareSource pitch in about $300,000.

Many Premier Health employees use the Flyer to get to work, including a significant share of the hundreds of staff who park at the Transportation Center blocks away from the downtown headquarters and the people who live in or near downtown, the organization said.

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The Flyer helps employees at Miami Valley hospital and Premier’s downtown center get between sites or grab lunch in the Oregon District or Brown Street, the group said.

The service has been so popular that RTA already has added a fourth bus to the route, and other vehicles soon will be dedicated to the circulator.

RTA maintenance staff are rebranding a pair of 40-foot buses to serve as contingency Flyer vehicles in case any shuttles are out of commission or need maintenance, said Olson.

The Flyer service has four 30-foot buses that run continuously on a fairly short loop, arriving at stops about every 10 minutes.

The RTA would like to put the 40-foot buses into the rotation, but the Flyer’s current route has a tight turn at Irvin Avenue that the larger buses can’t make, Olson said.

The RTA is looking at ways to address this issue, like eliminating a couple of parking spaces or modifying the shuttle’s route.

Larger buses have been put into service during special events when high volumes of riders were expected, like during the Downtown Housing Tour, Olson said. The larger buses took detours to avoid the tight turn.

The Flyer has earned rave reviews from businesses and amenities along or near its route, which stretches from Brown Street near UD to Monument Avenue by RiverScape MetroPark.

“As far as helping local businesses, there tends to be more foot traffic during the times the free buses run down through Brown Street,” said John Hayman, general manager of Fusion, a fast-causal sushi restaurant located at 1200 Brown St.

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The Flyer offers easy access to downtown offices, parking areas, businesses, entertainment and restaurants and connects people to downtown’s major destinations, nearly door to door, said Dan McCabe, chief administrative officer with CareSource.

Many people who hop on the Flyer are riding a bus for the first time, and the service has helped CareSource employees move safely between the organization’s campus-like environment downtown, McCabe said.

The Flyer is going to play an important role in getting UD students back and forth from the Dayton Arcade when the complex is expected to reopen next year.

UD and the Entrepreneurs Center have teamed up to be a joint anchor tenant in the arcade, and there will be roughly 200 or more students at the arcade for normal class activities, which does not include experiential learning and other programming and events, said Vincent Lewis, director of the L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at UD’s School of Business Administration.

Lewis said the hope is most students will use the Flyer to get to the innovation hub. He said it takes about eight minutes to get to the arcade from Brown Street.

The walk from Irvin Commons to the front of the UD chapel is about 1.5 miles, which is just slightly less distance from the front of the chapel to the arcade’s Fourth Street entrance (1.7 miles), Lewis said.

The arcade feels a lot farther away because of geographic barriers like the U.S. 35 overpass, but the Flyer takes care of that and hopefully will lead to more students visiting downtown and becoming more engaged with the community, he said.

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The arcade creates an intentional connection between UD and the urban core, and the Flyer will be a free and convenient way to travel between the destinations, said Scott Koorndyk, president of the Entrepreneurs Center, which is relocating its programming, events and staff to the arcade.

The Levitt Pavilion Dayton’s second season begins May 30, and concert-goers are expected to use the Flyer to explore downtown before and after the free shows.

“We also are encouraged that as UD students see this as a connector to the amenities of downtown, that they will use it to come to the more than 50 free concerts we offer at the Levitt,” said Lisa Wagner, the Levitt’s executive director.

The RTA has had conversations with a variety of people and groups about expanding the free shuttle service to other parts of the city, possibly running east or west, officials said. Sponsorships could be sought to try to make that a reality.

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