OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Public transportation has been growing in Omaha for some time with the ORBT bus line on Dodge and plans for a streetcar on Farnam. A plan unveiled by Metro on Thursday is opening the door to more potential growth for public transportation in Omaha.
Three years ago the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill allowing Metro Transit to expand to the suburbs, including cities such as Bellevue, Papillon and Gretna.
Thursday, Metro took the first steps as its board of directors voted to make Metro a regional transit authority. It also unveiled a new strategic plan that shows Metro plans to double down on serving its existing customers by making those routes better.
That includes increasing the routes it has now, specifically on the east side of the city.
“There’s a big difference in a transit trip that comes every 30 minutes to one that comes every 10 or 15,” said Lauren Cencic, executive director for Metro.
It also includes more routes on nights and weekends and even adding more shelters to increase the rider experience.
“When you provide high-quality service you start to attract more people to it,” said Cencic.
The plan also emphasizes 24th Street, connecting North and South Omaha with an ORBT bus line, something soon to be heavily studied so Metro gets it right.
“The route 24 that serves 24th Street is one of our busiest and most popular routes. It’s very heavily utilized and also it connects to every other route in our system,” said Cencic.
The move Thursday made Metro a regional transit authority, potentially giving it the power to expand outside of Omaha if cities want it.
One of those potential cities is Bellevue. Mayor Rusty Hike told 3 News Now that he’s hoping to possibly expand that ORBT route to Bellevue: going from 24th and Q to eventually Fort Crook Road.
“We got a six-lane arterial there. We don’t need six lanes right now, so we basically have the path for it,” said Hike.
Since elected mayor four years ago, Hike has been on a mission to expand the city’s tax base.
“We got to highly densify the area to bring up that tax base and make it sustainable in the future,” said Hike.
And he sees an expanded bus line as a natural fit.
“If you have mass people you got to be able to have a mass way to move them,” said Hike.
If a city joins, taxes would likely be raised in some capacity, but Hike thinks having more people living in town would even that out.
“Kind of takes care of itself once you do that,” said Hike.
3 News Now reached out to Papillion and La Vista, but neither told 3 News Now whether they have interest in joining the transit authority.
The new plan also includes more routes out west and long-term plans even as an ORBT line to Elkhorn.