Darkness was still clinging to the sky as Omaha City Councilwoman Jean Stothert climbed aboard a nearly full Omaha Metro bus — the Millard Express — just after 7 a.m. Tuesday near 120th and M Streets for a quick commute downtown.
It was Ride the Bus to Work Day, which the City Council endorsed last week to urge people to ride Metro buses to work during March and to urge business and community leaders to encourage greater bus ridership.
The six other council members also caught a bus from various points in the city, said Councilman Chris Jerram, who sponsored the resolution.
Taking the bus is more sustainable and less costly than driving, he said, particularly given high gas prices. The average price for regular gasoline in Nebraska stood at nearly $3.80 a gallon Tuesday, according to AAA Nebraska, up 22 cents a gallon from the same time last year.
Riding the bus also saves wear and tear on cars and on city streets and reduces traffic congestion and air pollution.
The Ride the Bus to Work event was a collaboration of the City Council, Omaha Metro and ModeShift Omaha, a group that supports greater transportation choice in Omaha.
The council meets on Tuesday afternoons at the City-County Building in downtown Omaha. Council members often have committee meetings beforehand.
“It's more convenient and accessible than people think,” Jerram said. “If we can do this, anybody can do it.”
Indeed, more people have been riding recently, said Linda Barritt, Metro's marketing director.
Ridership was up 6.5 percent in 2011 from 2010 levels, she said. Numbers in January and February combined were up 16 percent compared with the same months last year. That translates to a little more than 44,000 additional passenger trips each month.
Stothert said the trip gave her a better understanding of the bus system.
For her, however, the bus isn't the most convenient option, she said. It's a seven-block walk from her home to the stop where she boarded Tuesday. Most days, she's moving around the city, making it more convenient to drive a car.
But Stothert said her experience points to a need to continue to look at bus routes in the city with an eye toward making them more convenient. While the city has many east-west routes, it may need more north-south options.
“Yes, it's doable,” she said of riding the bus. “But is it convenient for everyone in Omaha? No, it isn't.”
Stothert said future transportation options are under study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency. Jerram said Metro recently received a grant to study such options, as well.
On Tuesday, Jerram took a bus from midtown. Councilman Tom Mulligan left his vehicle at a Park and Ride location near Westroads Mall and took the No. 2 bus east down Dodge Street to downtown. Councilmen Pete Festersen and Franklin Thompson also picked up the No. 2 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Councilman Garry Gernandt boarded the No. 13 near his home in South Omaha.
Contact the writer: