Omaha Speeds Up with Rapid Transit, but the City Has a Long Way to Go

On a recent Sunday, Jeff S., who did not want to provide his last name, sat on a bench at the Westroads Mall bus terminal waiting an hour for the bus that would take him home. It’s been five years since he last owned a car because he said he couldn’t afford the maintenance costs. He used to work in Council Bluffs but left his job because it took an hour and a half to get there from Omaha.

Ever since the Omaha transportation system was created in 1972, uniting a patchwork of private transit systems across Omaha, Bellevue and Council Bluffs under one roof, routes multiplied as the city continued to grow. However, the inconvenient schedules and the public’s preference for purchasing automobiles caused a decrease in the number of passengers, forcing public transportation providers to suspend services to satellite communities, such as Council Bluffs.

There are currently three types of public transportation available in Omaha: the metro bus system, MOBY, which is a transportation service for disabled residents, and ORBT, the city’s newly launched rapid bus transit system, which runs along Dodge Street. However, distribution is usually complex since many users have to transfer up to three times in order to reach their destinations.

Jeff S. said the transportation options are inadequate.

“Going to Council Bluffs and Bellevue is terrible,” he said. “Transportation runs every hour and a half if you’re lucky. Also, the West area is completely unattended, so one has to walk and wait a long time for the bus to arrive.”

The bus schedule is now available online at ometro.com, but Jeff said that makes it challenging for people who do not have access to the internet.

“Before, you could have the schedule on paper,” Jeff said. “I think that because of the whole COVID-19 thing they no longer hand them out. I already know the schedules, but with that and the whole system’s route changes, and how sometimes the buses don’t run on time, if you don’t have a cell phone, you don’t know what happened.”

Thomas Hennessy arrived from Minnesota to study in Omaha, lured by the promise of “the good life.” He said the job opportunities and options for economic growth are better than Minnesota, and he uses public transportation every day.

“I take advantage of the fact that ORBT is available,” he said. “I like the transportation system, but it should improve the schedule on traditional buses. I work nights and end my shift at 2:30 a.m. and have to take Uber, which is expensive.”

Hennessy said he does not plan to buy a car because it is not cost-effective and he has university expenses to cover.

While he plans to stay in Omaha for a while, he says more young people would want to be in the city if it had a better transportation system.

The city plans to expand the ORBT routes but has not announced a timeline.

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