Efforts to save one of Sarpy County's two bus lines appear to be successful.
Pressured by bus riders, both Papillion and La Vista announced this week that money for the Tri-Communities Express route has been restored in the 2013-2014 budgets they adopted.
“I never want the City of La Vista to be a city that loses services because of a small amount of money,” La Vista City Councilman Anthony Gowan said. “And I think this is, in the grand scheme of things, a small amount of money.”
Representatives from Papillion, La Vista and Ralston met last week with planners from the Metro transit agency, which runs Route 93 from midtown Omaha to Papillion. Metro officials agreed to explore updating and streamlining the meandering route, which hasn't changed in 40 years.
“It appears all three cities are willing to be a part of this, and we can monitor it over the next year,” La Vista Council President Mike Crawford said. “I think this will actually increase ridership.”
In July, La Vista officials were the first to announce they were eliminating the city's $8,600 contribution to the bus route, saying it served only a handful of riders. Papillion officials agreed with the cut, and Ralston Mayor Don Groesser said his city might follow their lead.
The cities annually contribute a total of about $21,000 for the bus line. Using some state and federal grants, Metro picks up the rest of the cost.
But riders fought back against the proposed cuts, lobbying council members to support public transportation.
The route is one of only two bus lines still operating within Sarpy County, and riders — some regular, some intermittent passengers — said they relied on the bus to commute back and forth to work, travel to downtown Omaha, save money on gas or support green energy policies. In 2012, Metro tallied 7,800 passenger trips for the route.
Papillion unanimously passed a budget amendment to add $7,500 in public transportation costs back into the budget. La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig said the city would similarly transfer funds.
Metro Executive Director Curt Simon said the agency needs confirmation that all funding has been restored by mid-October. In the meantime, Metro will continue to tinker with the route, exploring options that include shifting it to a straight shot down 84th Street, a move that could shave 10 minutes off commutes, and adding more park-and-ride locations.
“We're pleased that they did that, and we look forward to working with them to make the route more successful,” Simon said.
Residents and council members said the cities or Metro also need to do a better job of marketing the line.