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11 and N Street bus stop

Bus riders fill the sidewalk at the 11th and N streets bus stop.

Reliability of service will be the key selling point to getting Lincoln and Omaha residents on board a proposed intercity bus service that will connect Nebraska's largest cities, several prospective commuters said Thursday.

Gathered around maps marked with potential stops, several attendants of a public meeting in Lincoln said dependability in navigating the 60-mile route will make or break it.

"If it's not easy, your business commuter is not going to use it," said Daren Konda, who commutes to Lincoln from Omaha daily for his job with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. "The only people that will utilize it are those who have no other alternative."

He was one of about a dozen participants Thursday at the Nebraska Department of Transportation's Lincoln meeting.

An estimated 13,000 people commute between Lincoln and Omaha each workday, according to Olsson, which is studying the concept for the state.

Connecting these cities has been discussed for more than 15 years. 

In the early 2000s, a study found Nebraskans favored a light rail line between the two cities over buses, but couldn't stomach the expense to build it, said Fred Favel of KFH Group, which is working with Olsson on the project. 

Intercity bus options already exist but they're not as frequent or convenient, Olsson officials said. 

An intercity bus line of 10 to 15 buses could serve as many as 520 riders a day and could be paid for with a mix of federal grant dollars, state transportation funds and a match from local communities served by the line, Olsson officials said.

The University of Nebraska's College of Engineering runs a free shuttle for students and staff between the Lincoln campus, the Peter Kiewit Institute and University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.  

Similar intercity bus lines have found success in Kansas where a connector bus route brings passengers from Lawrence to Kansas City, Kansas, on weekdays or in Iowa where a line connects people in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

Connecting Lincoln residents to Eppley Airfield or Omaha passengers to downtown Lincoln or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has appeal, participants said.

All of the participants in one breakout group Thursday said they'd pay a fare between $5 and $7 per trip if the service was dependable.

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For one woman who works at the State Office Building the key was: "Can this get me to work on time?"

Another participant, Elizabeth Nguyen, interprets for Lincoln's Vietnamese community. She drives weekly to Omaha to help translate Vietnamese for people processing immigration paperwork, she said.

Nguyen also knows nail technicians who live in Lincoln and work in Omaha nail salons, shoppers who frequent Omaha malls, travelers who want to use Omaha's airport and foodies who love their restaurants, she said.

"We all love to go eating," she said.

Aside from reliability, this bus service would need to be friendly and accessible for the two cities' non-English-speaking communities, she said. 

When she moved to Lincoln 30 years ago, she got on the wrong StarTran bus. Fortunately, Nguyen spoke English and got shuttled to the right location, she said. 

Project officials say they're looking at a line that would run between Omaha and Lincoln on Interstate 80 and a separate line that would connect to the small towns between them on U.S. 6. 

The parking availability and other local connecting transportation options to cover the "last mile" of a rider's trip will determine the routes, Corinne Donahue of Olsson said. 

Thursday's meeting marked the second of three meetings on the issue. The first was held Wednesday in Greenwood, and the third meeting will be held Friday in Omaha.

Transportation officials encourage the public to take an online survey aiding this intercity bus service study. The survey can be found online at Nebraskatransit.com

That survey along with input from the meetings will help determine bus routes.

Nebraska's Mobility Management program is exploring this concept as part of its program seeking to coordinate and improve transportation options in the state.

A final report on the idea is expected by March. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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