At least one of the three suburban cities that contract for the Tri-Communities Express bus route is thinking about doing away with funding for the little-used route, a move that could end one of the last bus lines serving Sarpy County.
La Vista City Administrator Brenda Gunn told City Council members at a budget hearing last week that she recommended La Vista cut its annual $8,600 contribution to the service. Ralston and Papillion were considering the same action, she said.
On weekdays only, Metro transit's Route 93 runs a total of four trips from Midtown Crossing south to Papillion, ending on Golden Gate Drive near Highway 370. Since 1974 the three cities have contracted with Metro to run the route, which is also supported by state and federal funding.
But just a handful of travelers use the route, leading city officials to wonder if it's worth the cost.
“There's seven people that ride it,” Gunn said. “It's not full time. We felt like this funding could be better spent elsewhere in our budget. All three entities are paying for seven people.”
Metro Executive Director Curt Simon said he hasn't had any discussions with the three cities about cutting funding or the route itself.
“Their budget decisions are their budget decisions, but they have not informed us of their intent,” he said.
The four entities met several months ago to brainstorm ways to improve the underutilized and winding route, not eliminate it altogether, he said.
“If the route was more streamlined and had more park-and-ride locations, I think that would help,” Simon said. “If it were more linear and operated straight down 84th Street and had a couple of nice park-and-ride lots. But at the end of the day, it's really their call.”
Ralston Mayor Don Groesser said funding for the route was still in the city's 2013-2014 budget, but said that could change if La Vista or Papillion pulls out of the agreement. A bus route that continues to stop near the new Ralston Arena could help attendance there, he said.
“We probably need to be talking to Metro about changing some routes,” he said. “The arena's there now and it was never there before, but that's a whole set of conversations. I'd hate to eliminate it as a way for people to get to work.”
Officials in Papillion could not be reached for comment.
Gunn said public transportation is still a need in La Vista — home to several large employers — but she said there hasn't been a big enough push to expand suburban transportation options.
“Our employers need to get people out here to work, and that involves expanding the routes, and we can't get that done,” she said.
Metro has gradually phased out several suburban routes due to low ridership. In 2010, a route that looped from Metropolitan Community College in South Omaha to the Southroads Mall in Bellevue was discontinued.
A Bellevue express route that runs from downtown Omaha to Bellevue University with several stops in between still runs on weekdays. It is the only other route operating within Sarpy County, Simon said.
If Route 93 were discontinued, some Sarpy residents could use a Millard express, or the transit agency could expand a route with a park-and-ride stop at 96th and Q Streets, he said.
Several suburban cities, including Bellevue and Papillion, offer an on-demand bus service to senior citizens and disabled residents who can request a ride to doctors' appointments, grocery stores or local senior centers.
Transportation statistics show that despite the population and job growth in Sarpy County, there's not much use of public transportation. A 2011 U.S. Census survey showed only 0.3 percent of Sarpy County residents, or about 250 people, used public transportation to get to work, compared with 86 percent who drove alone in a car and 8 percent who carpooled.
Public transportation figures in Omaha were higher, with 1.4 percent of residents commuting via public transportation.