Tom Lamczyk rides the bus to his Union Pacific office because it's convenient and environmentally friendly. Robert Dworkin has been commuting by bus for 12 years from his Papillion home to his job in downtown Omaha. Another passenger walks 35 minutes to a bus stop each day because he doesn't have a car.
All three call the Route 93 bus line vital to their daily routine, and all three are among a group of riders fighting to keep the route from being axed.
Citing low ridership, officials in Papillion and La Vista have proposed cutting funding for the Tri-Communities Express bus line from their cities' 2014 budgets.
Ralston, the third contributing city, is on the fence. Ralston Mayor Don Groesser has said the weekday bus provides a needed service, but said if Papillion and La Vista cut funding, he would most likely follow suit.
That would leave Metro transit to pick up the cost of running the route, which receives some state and federal subsidies, or discontinue it.
Fearing the elimination of their preferred — or in some cases, only — mode of transportation, several riders are pleading their case to city officials.
“Those little towns should be ashamed of themselves because they should be promoting mass transit and not eliminating it,” Dworkin said.
David Lee showed up at a Papillion City Council meeting on Aug. 6 to ask council members to restore funding for the bus line. Lamczyk helped draft a press release protesting the cuts. And others have signed an online petition to save Route 93, one of only two bus routes connecting Omaha and suburban Sarpy County.
“There are disabled people who ride the bus, elderly people who ride the bus, and it also serves as a safety net for people,” Lee told the council. “Not just poor people, but all people in the community. For example, if their car breaks down, they have an alternate route to work. And it cuts down on emissions, and there's less cars on the road.”
Papillion Councilman Tom Mumgaard said Lee's comments convinced him that the bus line deserves the council's support. The councilman said he would work to restore the $7,000 budget item, which several riders pointed out represents a tiny fraction of Papillion's $60.9 million budget.
“It's a means for our citizens, our taxpayers, to get to their jobs; and, secondly, a necessity we need to attract businesses into Papillion,” Mumgaard said. “Their employer pool is not going to come solely from Papillion. A couple of companies have historically paid for shuttle buses simply because they need to draw employees from the metro area.”
La Vista, Ralston and Papillion will hold budget reviews this week at which residents and council members are invited to weigh in on city spending.
Since 1973, the three cities have partnered with Metro to fund the route, which runs between Mutual of Omaha in midtown and Golden Gate Drive in Papillion. Papillion last year contributed $7,000 to the route and La Vista paid $8,600. Metro and Ralston picked up the remaining tab.
Metro Executive Director Curt Simon, who could not be reached for comment, said last month that the budget cuts were surprising. Metro officials met with the cities earlier this year to discuss ways to update the route and increase ridership, he said.
But officials in Papillion and La Vista say the handful of riders using the route don't justify its price tag. One survey counted only seven passengers on one bus. All three cities already provide on-call bus services to senior citizens and disabled residents who need rides to the doctor or grocery store.
Riders concede that the zigzag route is inefficient.
“Right now the route is its own worst enemy,” Lamczyk said.
Designed 40 years ago to pick up residents at different apartment complexes, the route is long, confusing and inconvenient for many potential riders who have to walk or drive too far to a bus stop, he said.
Groesser and Simon have suggested a more straightforward route down 84th or 72nd Street that would shorten commutes and add more park-and-ride locations.
Lee suggested cutting one of the two buses serving the route. The buses run 20 minutes apart.
“Instead of having 12 people on one bus and four or five on the other, we'd have 17 people on one bus, which would make it more efficient,” Lee said.
The bus serves workers, college students, senior citizens and disabled riders with few transportation options, supporters said. In the winter, people take the bus to avoid driving on streets made slick with snow. When gas prices spike, those on a budget pay the $1.50 fare instead of filling up their tanks.
“I'd still be able to get to work, but I'm lucky,” Lamczyk said. “There are other people who can't drive who are dependent on that bus.”