Question: What about a bus route from Church Hill (#7) straight through Broad without stopping at the Transfer Plaza?
Nicholas: Part of the new network redesign was indeed reinstituting through service, which is more efficient for a few reasons. First, it allows a few one-seat rides through downtown, though most people will still need to transfer. But more importantly, it is a more efficient use of bus time. Through buses can continue on through without a 5-10 min layover downtown, and eliminating that layover means you no longer need to find a place for 25 buses to layover for 5 minutes each—which is good because space downtown is at a premium.
Additionally, most buses today make a big loop around downtown, so people can reach a variety of destinations both at the top and bottom of the hill. Imagine two routes, #1 and #2, with a single bus doing route #1 and then route #2, alternatingly. Say that each route spends 45 minutes outside of downtown and 15 minutes looping around downtown, for a total of two hours for one bus to do both routes. Now combine routes #1 and #2 together. You still have 45 minutes each on the outer parts of the route (for a total of 90 minutes) and yet only 15 minutes downtown, because that overlapping downtown part was being duplicated by both routes. So instead of two hours, you can do the through running route in an hour and 45 minutes. This saved time means you can extend the routes slightly or run more frequent service with fewer buses. For example, to run a bus every 15 minutes on a 2-hour cycle you need 8 buses, but on a 1 hour, 45 minute-cycle you only need 7 buses. Now all these buses can be used more efficiently to improve the system all over.
All this came together in the new system (take a look at the new maps on GRTC’s website) when they looked at which routes to combine. W. Broad Street has been combined with E. Main Street on the Pulse, and the Fairfield/Mosby bus has been combined with a new bus on W. Cary Street/Main Street. North-South buses have been combined, and a few other routes have also been combined for scheduling purposes, even if the numbers don't show it (the Randolph and Oak Grove buses, the Grove and Patterson buses).
Through running the #7 with the new #14 might be an option one day, but it would remove local service on E. Main Street and the connection with all the buses at 24th and Main, unless you make all the #7 riders detour. You could also through run it with more service into Southside at some point, which could be done as the system grows. Regardless, this is a very insightful question, and really made me think.