This story is part of a package published before the May 2021 City of Omaha General Elections. Read all the personal perspectives on issues ailing Omaha here.
On a recent Sunday, Jeff S. sat on a bench at the Westroads Mall bus terminal waiting an hour for the bus home. He got rid of his car five years ago because he can’t afford maintenance costs, forcing him to leave his job in Council Bluffs because it took an hour and a half to get there from Omaha by bus.
Ever since Omaha created its transportation system in 1972, uniting a patchwork of private systems, routes multiplied as the city grew. However, inconvenient schedules and the public’s preference for purchasing automobiles led to less passengers and service.
There are currently three types of public transportation available in Omaha: the metro bus system, MOBY, a transportation service for disabled residents, and ORBT, the city’s new rapid bus transit system, which runs along Dodge Street. However, the system remains cumbersome for some who have to transfer up to three times in order to reach their destinations.
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“Going to Council Bluffs and Bellevue is terrible,” Jeff 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 available online at ometro.com, but not everyone has 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 came to Omaha for college, lured by the promise of “the good life.” He said job opportunities are better than his home in Minnesota, and public transportation helps him get to and from work.
“I like the transportation system, but it should improve the schedule on traditional buses,” he said. “I work nights and end my shift at 2:30 a.m. and have to take Uber, which is expensive.”
While he plans to stay in Omaha for a while, he says the city could attract more young people if it had a better transportation system.
The city plans to expand the ORBT routes but has not announced a timeline.