Metro is reaching its final milestone in developing an “ambitious” plan that will shape the future of Omaha’s transit.
Armed with feedback from nearly 20 community meetings, the agency that oversees city transit will soon choose one of three scenarios to guide Metro over the next five to 10 years.
The three scenarios, which were described by Metro officials during a Facebook Live Forum hosted by the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance on Wednesday, would cost significantly more than Metro’s current budget.
Each scenario would cost about $52 million a year to run, said Metro CEO Lauren Cencic. That’s about 58% more than Metro currently spends.
“Any of those scenarios would require incremental progression to get there,” Cencic said, “so all of those are kind of ambitious in nature, but they really set that goal for ourselves as a region in the extent that we would like to access.”
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Wednesday’s virtual forum was the last of four community meetings in March intended to gather feedback and shape final decisions on which of the three scenarios will move forward.
The process was part of the MetroNEXT initiative, the agency’s year-long planning effort to improve public transit in the Omaha area. MetroNEXT began in 2021 with 14 community meetings that brought hundreds of Omahans to share their ideas and priorities with the agency.
Metro used the feedback to draft the three scripts.
Each scenario emphasizes a different strategy: improving user amenities, strengthening existing bus routes or extending service to new areas.
The final plan could include parts of all three, said Evan Schweitz, Metro’s senior transit planner.
Scenario A focuses on modernizing the physical infrastructure at bus stops and train stations. This includes the study and implementation of rapid transit lines along 24th Street, 72nd Street, and the North Beltline, which is an abandoned rail corridor connecting North Omaha to the Midtown area.
The scenario would double the number of bus shelters, add real-time arrival displays at 50 bus stops, and open a new park-and-ride lot in North Omaha.
This scenario has the largest increase in fast service hours, Schweitz said.
Scenario A addresses many of Metro’s main goals, achieving the best results in terms of improved travel experience and sustainability with a focus on high ridership.
Scenario B prioritizes improvements to existing bus schedules, adding 15-minute daytime frequency to five of Metro’s major routes. This also includes operating more buses in the evening, seven days a week, as well as increasing the amount of service provided at weekends.
This scenario has the greatest potential to promote equity in the region through improvements in commute times and better connections on Metro’s network, officials said.
“Having routes that run every 15 minutes all day is really a game-changer by allowing people to have a more flexible schedule,” Schweitz said. “Whether they’re not working the typical 8-to-5 shift or need to travel to other destinations, not just rush hour.”
Scenario C explores an expansion of Metro services to new areas, which includes piloting three new flexible shared-ride service areas, often referred to as microtransit.
It would also add a Fort Street Expressway and a local bus route on 144th Street. This would increase service to Eppley Airfield to seven days a week.
Of the three scenarios, this one scores the most moderate for its impact on MetroNEXT goals, largely because it extends service into areas of low potential ridership.
Comments during Wednesday’s forum included support for parts of Metro’s plans that were included in all three scenarios: efforts to restore pre-COVID transit schedules, permanently fund the “K- Metro’s 12 Rides Free” and adopt a new policy that would allow MOBY customers to ride the bus for free.
In 2019, Omaha spent about $40 per capita (or person) on transit funding. That compares to $55 per capita in Lincoln, $67 in Kansas City, and $73 in Des Moines.
“As a region, we have to decide what the right amount of investment in transit is,” Cencic said. “In a lot of these scenarios that we’re about to unveil, there are quite a few improvements outside of our current budget, but we think it’s important to see what that would look like.”
Omahans who were unable to attend Metro meetings can still share their thoughts with the agency via an online survey which will close on Friday.
Feedback from meetings and polls will help shape a final script for the MetroNEXT plan, which will likely be presented to the public in April.
“At the end of the day, we want a plan that we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on,” Cencic said.