Thursday, August 27, 2009

Young Professionals Provide Feedback For Omaha's Bus Transit Authority

The masthead for this blog reads:

One man's attempt at opting out of the total car culture
by walking, busing, and cycling in Omaha, Nebraska.

There hasn't been much talk of busing here lately, as I'm been so taken with all that the world of cycling has to offer. This post is about busing in Omaha.

Today, the Omaha Young Professionals Council is presenting to Metro Area Transit the results of the survey that followed the YP Bus Challenge earlier this spring. I participated in the Challenge by buying a monthly pass and using the bus every day for commuting (with bicycle in tow) and some errand running. I formed a team at work and we came in at third place.

Yesterday I got an email from Omaha World-Herald reporter, Tom Shaw, looking for some quotes on a story. I was happy to oblige, as I see helping to develop a top-notch transit system in Omaha as vital to helping to check suburban sprawl, and to attract (and retain!) smart, hardworking folks (young and old) to Omaha.

The text of the story is below. Be sure to check out the paper or the web site for updates after the YP Council presents their report to MAT.

Group backs later MAT service

By Tom Shaw


It's 1 a.m.

You and your friends just had a great time in the Old Market. Now you want to get back to Dundee.

If only you could hop on a bus.

Expanding Metro Area Transit bus service to include late-night hours is one of several recommendations from the Greater Omaha Young Professionals.

The recommendations come from participants in the group's spring Bus Challenge. Nearly 200 people rode MAT buses over a three-week period in April and May and then took an online survey about their experiences.

Young Professionals, which is affiliated with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, seeks to improve Omaha so the city can continue to attract and retain young professionals.

MAT executive director Curt Simon welcomes the recommendations, which will be formally presented to the MAT board today.

Some of the group's suggestions, such as improving MAT's bus signs and Web site, are being done already, Simon said. Other ideas, including the late night bus service, will require more study. Currently, buses serving main routes quit running at 11:30 p.m.

Simon said support for public transportation from younger Omahans is key.

“They don't just want to see it work,” he said of the bus system. “They want to see it work well.”

Scott Redd, a systems engineer at Union Pacific, took part in the challenge. Usually he rides his bike from home near 50th Street and Interstate 80 to the downtown UP headquarters.

Redd said MAT is convenient for people in the midtown and downtown areas. It also cuts out the expense of downtown parking.

An avid biker, Redd also likes the fact that MAT buses have bike racks on the front.

“That was really progressive,” he said. “I was surprised when they starting doing that.”

But there are limitations.

Redd said he can't catch a bus home after about 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.

Chris Miller, an information technology worker for First National Bank, also pointed to bus schedules as a drawback.

Miller, a midtown resident who took the challenge, has ridden the bus downtown since 2007.

Miller said some of his co-workers don't use the bus because they don't think it's reliable enough.

MAT buses are on schedule close to 90 percent of the time, Simon said, but acknowledged occasional problems.

Miller and Redd said they think some young professionals buy into a stereotype that buses are only for low-income residents. Miller and Redd said the bus can be a good resource for anyone.

One recommendation is for MAT to rebrand itself and expand support for public transportation.

Simon said MAT continuously works to fight the negative images.

The group also recommended that more companies offer financial assistance to employees who use public transportation.

First National Bank subsidizes 25 percent of bus ticket costs for employees and sells them through its human resources department.

Union Pacific lets employees buy bus passes with pre-tax pay, saving some money on the cost.

Young Professionals also would like more bus service aimed at area college students.

Simon said the agency is developing a pilot program with Metro Community College to increase service for its students.

MAT hasn't had much success getting a program started for UNO students, Simon said, because of the varied times and routes students would need.

Simon said there's merit in exploring an after-hours bus that circulates through downtown and midtown. The question, he said, is whether late-night bus service would be economically viable.

MAT has changed some bus signs in response to suggestions from the young professionals group and others.

MAT now displays entire bus schedules on small kiosks at places such as 76th and Dodge Streets. More route information also is being placed at bus shelters.

MAT's Web site will be improved soon, Simon said, so users can click on specific routes and pull up the bus schedule for that route.

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Steve said...

I saw that in the paper earlier today. Nice job with the feedback. It really would be nice if MAT could figure out some sort of late night route.

Scott Redd said...

Combining bus and bike trips can help with late night access. You could take one of the existing late running buses and get as close as you can to your neighborhood, and then bike the rest of the way.

I think the #2 (Dodge), #11 (Leavenworth), and maybe the #15/#55 (Center) run until 10pm or 11pm.

The big problem is this: What if you are counting on using a late bus, maybe the last one running, and it doesn't show, or you miss it, or the bike racks are full.

There are times on the weekend that I'd like to take a bus to the Old Market, but I can't since the route that runs through my neighborhood is so infrequent in the weekend, plus it stops running very early in the afternoon.

I'm a bit of a hypocrite right now because I am choosing my bike over the bus almost exclusively, but I think it's important to get people comfortable riding the bus, so that they can, and may later choose to, ride the bus.