Tom Lamczyk wakes up every morning to take Bus 93 from Tara Plaza to work at Union Pacific in downtown Omaha.
However, that may no longer be an option if the cities of Papillion and La Vista decide to pull funding from Sarpy County’s only bus route.
Funding wasn’t included in a 2013-14 budget proposal presented Tuesday to the Papillion City Council. The 2012-13 budget included a $7,000 contribution, said Community Relations Coordinator Darren Carlson. The total annual cost of the route is about $20,000.
Under the proposal, Papillion would still offer specialized transportation for residents who need it, Carlson said.
Metro transit’s Tri-Communities Express runs weekdays from downtown Omaha, through Ralston, La Vista and Papillion toward the Sarpy County Courthouse on Highway 370. In 1974, the cities signed a service agreement in which the cost of Route 93 would be split three ways.
Metro Executive Director Curt Simon said he’s had discussions with the cities about “streamlining” the route down 84th Street, but a resolution hadn’t been reached. A meeting with La Vista, Ralston and Papillion about the future of Route 93 revealed an average ridership of seven people per bus.
“It’s certainly understandable the cities and municipalities have budget constraints they have to meet,” Simon said. “It’d be nice to find some way to salvage it.”
Lamczyk said bus ridership has declined because several loops along the route in La Vista cause an inconvenience for those who take the bus to Omaha or Highway 370.
“The demographics have changed, and now it’s its own worst enemy,” Lamczyk said. “I’m looking for an express bus, not a looping bus through La Vista.”
In Douglas County, Ralston officials are looking for a sign from Papillion or La Vista before pulling funds.
“I’d like to keep it the way it’s going,” said Ralston Mayor Don Groesser. “If everyone jumps out, I’m going to have to evaluate it.”
La Vista has not included funding for Route 93 as part of its budget for the next fiscal year, said La Vista Community Relations Coordinator Mitch Beaumont. A cut, however, would first require city council approval during the third reading of the proposed budget on Sept. 3. La Vista pays $8,600 per year for Route 93.
The setup wasn’t working for La Vista because Metro transit’s costs have increased over the years, Beaumont said.
Metro recommended changing the route to a park-and-ride style, where commuters drive their vehicles near a bus stop and take the bus to their destination.
La Vista will likely look at the results of Heartland Connections 2050 before making any future changes to transit funding beyond the proposed cuts to Route 93. Heartland Connections 2050 is a joint effort between the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency and Metro transit that will provide a plan through 2050.
La Vista officials said public transportation is still a need in the city because it is home to several large employers, but there haven’t been enough efforts to expand suburban transportation options, Beaumont said.
In 2012, about 7,800 people used the route.
La Vista, in partnership with Ralston, offers a specialized bus service for seniors and those with disabilities. The service wouldn’t be affected under the proposed budget.
If Route 93 is dissolved, he recommended Route 96 as an alternative for commuters. The route runs from 84th and Q streets south toward Park Drive and west toward 108th and Madison streets.
Simon also said the absence of a public route would be a huge loss to area residents.
“When something gets discontinued, it’s somewhat of a blow to them,” Simon said.
Robert Dworkin has commuted to downtown Omaha for 12 years via bus from his Papillion home. He said nixing the Sarpy County bus route would be a shortsighted decision that would send the wrong signal about the cities.
“Those little towns should be ashamed of themselves because they should be promoting mass transit and not eliminating it,” he said. “In Papillion, Ralston and La Vista, we don’t have the mass transit requirement that big cities like Chicago, New York and L.A. do. Does it make sense to go backward in time and eliminate the mass transit systems in these communities? No. No, it doesn’t.”