The biggest changes to the Omaha bus system in decades will begin May 31, the Metro Board of Directors decided Thursday.

Some routes have been added, changed or deleted, but the biggest difference will be more frequent buses, later night hours and more service on the weekends, said Curt Simon, Metro director.

The changes affect 25 of Metro’s 33 bus routes.

Nine of the main routes will run past midnight. All weekend routes will run at least once an hour.

The restructuring results from a two-year process that included a dozen public meetings, surveys of 4,000 riders and more than 500 public comments submitted.

A list of the changes can be found at ometro.com under the “Announcements” tab. New route schedules will be issued in mid-April, and Metro plans to roll out a marketing campaign soon.

The goal, Simon said, is to provide better job access for night shift workers and to streamline service, making routes more direct and easier to navigate for first-time riders.

Metro didn’t increase its overall budget to pay for the changes, even though the number of miles buses travel is expected to increase by 3.8 percent.

The transit authority figures the new system has potential to prompt 300,000 to 400,000 more passenger trips a year. That would be a 10 percent increase on the current 4 million trips, Simon said.

“That’s big,” he said. “The expansion and more frequent trips makes the system much easier to use.”

A sample:

» Route 18, which serves a large portion of north Omaha, will run more often — every 15 minutes until 7 p.m. instead of the current 30-minute frequency.

» Routes from Westroads Mall to downtown will run every 15 minutes at rush hours. So will routes from downtown to Metropolitan Community College’s South Omaha campus.

Craig Howell, head of the anti-hunger group Hunger Collaborative, praised the new Route 24.

He said housing, financial literacy, education and food assistance programs are dotted up and down the route, which runs along 24th Street in north Omaha to Metropolitan Community College’s South Omaha campus and the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center. The route runs every 30 minutes.

Howell said the 24th Street corridor is an area of concentrated need.

“This is a game changer in the fight to end hunger and poverty,” he said. “This new route connects several social services and their clients together.”

An analysis Metro conducted found that the changes will increase service to low-income individuals and to minorities by 11 percent.

The analysis, which is federally required, uses block-level census data on race and income to compare the old and new routes.

Mark Bulger, president of the Omaha Association of the Blind, said he was concerned some people would be cut off from service.

“Who doesn’t want to have more frequency, later and weekend service?” he asked the board. “You can’t make everyone happy, and I understand the numbers supported changes, but how do we address those left behind?”

Metro staff members have worked with several neighborhood groups and affected businesses in areas where service will be reduced or discontinued.

Simon also encouraged people to contact Metro so the agency can work with them individually.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1276, jordan.pascale@owh.com, twitter.com/jwpascale

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