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Editorial: ORBT is an Omaha transportation innovation worth embracing

Editorial: ORBT is an Omaha transportation innovation worth embracing

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A new ORBT bus heads west on Dodge Street during testing on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

Forward-looking communities build toward their future through smart planning. Omaha’s new rapid bus line, which begins service Wednesday, provides a key example.

ORBT — Omaha Rapid Bus Transit — is notable in several ways. It responds to local demand for public transportation innovation. It uses technology to achieve efficiency and consumer convenience. It demonstrates Omaha’s ability to coordinate complex new civic projects. And it opens the way toward eventual expansion to additional parts of the city, to better park-and-ride stops and to Council Bluffs.

“This is really about thinking about the future, what we’re going to become and where we’re headed,” says Stephen Osberg, director of transportation development for the Greater Omaha Chamber, which is developing a regional transport strategy for the metro area.

ORBT buses will run between downtown and Westroads Mall, using a technology to hold a green light longer, with a dedicated lane east of 30th Street. A rapid transit bus will arrive at about 10-minute intervals, and a full ride along the 27-stop route will take around 26 minutes.

The stations will have Wi-Fi and ticket kiosks. Buses will provide Wi-Fi and onboard bike racks. A raised platform, train station-style, will ease riders’ entry and exit. It’s a smart, efficient approach that’s worked well in cities including Cleveland; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Missouri; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Eugene, Oregon.

Riders will buy prepaid tickets, but fares through mid-March will be free.

ORBT is a good example of the community investment suggested by the Nebraska Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency. In a recent analysis, they recommended focusing 40% of the Omaha area’s long-term transportation spending on public transit needs.

For the long term, ORBT lays the foundation for additional rapid transit connections, The World-Herald’s Jeff Robb reports: Connecting the Dodge Street line into Council Bluffs; running a line north up 30th Street and south along 24th Street to connect with Fort Crook Road in Bellevue; expanding along 72nd Street through Douglas County and 84th Street in La Vista and Papillion; and stretching west along West Center Road to 144th Street and Maple Street out to Interstate 680.

A key advantage of this project is that it responds to local demand, following extensive outreach to the community. As Rebecca Ryan, a consulting economist who worked with the Omaha chamber on long-term transportation needs, has noted, “You’re going to get skipped for the big next-generation opportunity if you don’t have that mass transportation that is an alternative to owning your own vehicle.”

Omaha shows foresight in working cooperatively to meet that need. The potential long-term benefits throughout our community are great.

Now it’s time to get on board.

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