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Bus riders divided on plan to alter routes
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Bus riders divided on plan to alter routes

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Milton Bayer has ridden the bus home from work many nights over the past 36 years.

He walks about 10 blocks to get to the bus stop closest to his southeast Lincoln home, no trouble for a man who often rides his bike to work even though he owns two cars, one of which is 13 years old and has just 60,000 miles on it.

“It’s convenient,” Bayer said of the bus. “I don’t have to drive. I don’t have to worry about being hit.”

On a recent evening, he boarded StarTran No. 43 for one of the last times before he retires at the end of the month from Lincoln Electric System.

So a plan to revamp city bus routes and procedures wouldn't affect Bayer much, but he said he likes its call for straighter, more efficient routes.

Not everyone feels the way he does about the proposed transit development plan city leaders will consider in early February. On a recent evening, bus riders offered mixed opinions about the plan that would guide bus-system improvements over the next five years.

Some described it as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Tim Turley, a 52-year-old struggling with physical and mental disabilities, said the changes would force him to walk an additional three blocks to get to the bus stop nearest his home.

He said the plan fails to correct many problems already facing the cash-strapped city bus system.

“I know people that walk a mile just to get to work just because of how the buses are,” he said. “The buses don’t connect with each other at all.”

On Nov. 19, the StarTran Advisory Board recommended approval of the plan on a split vote, but the Lincoln City Council decided Monday to postpone its decision until Feb. 8.

StarTran plans to host four public meetings in January to gather more input.

The changes would be implemented by fall.

Councilman Carl Eskridge, who requested the delay in the council vote, said he doesn’t expect significant changes as a result of the public meetings.

Many people who spoke before the council and the StarTran Advisory Board called for increased funding for the bus system, but Eskridge said the council likely won’t seriously consider that.

“I think this is a really good first step to show how we can be more efficient with what we got,” he said.

The plan focuses on routes serving the most people, leaving some current bus riders eight blocks to a mile from a bus stop.

It would extend evening service beyond the current 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on six routes and to 9 p.m. on two routes. It also would provide a crosstown route for riders to go north and south without a transfer downtown.

The plan also would end a longtime practice of bus drivers stopping for riders who aren’t at bus stops but who wave them down.

Mike Davis, city transit manager, said the plan would keep riders mostly on streets for which the routes are named. For example, riders on the Holdrege Route largely would stay on Holdrege Street, and riders on the O Street Route mostly would stay on O Street.

That change would remove many neighborhood bus stops, he said. And while that would move bus stops farther away from many riders, it also would make the bus system faster and more efficient, he said.

“Every time you make a turn in a car, it takes additional time,” Davis said. “It’s the same with a bus. It can also be confusing for passengers.”

He said StarTran would work to educate riders about the route changes.

The plan also would change the way buses pick up people at the main downtown bus stop at 11th and N streets. The more-efficient routes would allow buses to stay put longer to allow riders more time to transfer, Davis said.

The changes focus on high-ridership routes, and he said he expects a 5 percent increase in ridership as a result.

“It’s a shift of thinking that will definitely improve ridership overall and make it better for customers,” he said.

Recently, riders on two bus routes that would see significant changes shared their thoughts. The plan would remove the Arapahoe and Normal routes from the bus system, largely because of low ridership levels, but replace many of the stops they make with other routes, Davis said.

Barb Kubik, a Lincoln Electric System employee, said the changes would force her to ride a different bus but she wouldn't have to walk much farther than she does now to get to the bus stop nearest her home.

“I do like the proposal for them running later,” she said.

Donn Johnston jumped on the Arapahoe Route No. 45 bus recently on his way home from Southeast Community College’s downtown campus. He said the changes wouldn't affect him much as he only takes the bus to 12th and G streets. He said he would like to see more Saturday bus service.

He would hate to see StarTran no longer pick up riders who wave them down away from designated stops.

“I think it’s cool you can wave them down or think about waving them down,” he said.

Mark Rossignol, a state employee, said the plan would force him to walk an extra 10 blocks to the bus stop nearest his home. Now, he walks about 3 blocks.

He said he likely would drive to the nearest bus stop from his home near 79th Street and Leighton Avenue rather than all the way to work so he didn't have to pay for downtown parking and the additional gasoline and vehicle maintenance costs.

“I’ve adjusted my life to do this,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about parking. I don’t have to worry about dealing with traffic.”

While Rossignol would prefer to see StarTran keep more of its residential bus stops, he said, he understands the need to tailor the routes to better serve the most people.

“They can’t make it fit for everybody,” he said. “They’ve got to make it fit for the city.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJS_Abourezk.

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I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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