Omaha’s new bus system disappoints but sets hope for future

Justin Diep , Copy Editor


The Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) launched on Nov. 18, 2020 after nearly a decade of research, planning and construction. The goal was to better connect destinations along the Dodge Street corridor from Westroads Mall to Downtown Omaha by improving the rider experience.

Big bright orange accordion style busses will greet riders as frequently as every 10 minutes during peak weekday hours at one of ORBT’s 27 stops along Dodge and Douglas Streets. Although the wait times during the weekends can be as long as every 20 minutes.

The Westroads station at the northwest corner of the mall has plenty of free parking for riders. Each ORBT station is clearly marked with ORBT branding. There is a raised platform to allow for easier boarding and a bench with a covering. A screen at the station provides real time updates on when the next bus will arrive.

Once a bus arrives at the stop riders can enter any one of the three doors at the front, middle or back of the bus. Onboard the bus riders can choose a variety of cushioned seats facing the front or the aisle or they can stand. They are comfortable but it these seats may not be accommodating to all body types since the seats are a bit small.

Unlike traditional busses, there is no need to pull a rope or press a button to request a stop. The bus will stop at every one of the 27 stops. This made it more relaxing on the bus since you did not have to constantly worry about pulling a cord before your next stop and possibly missing it. When the bus is approaching a stop and when it arrives an automated announcement along with two signs within the bus will show the stop.

The free public Wi-Fi onboard the bus was nonexistent. For most of the ride the network did not pop up. On certain parts of the route the network popped up but multiple attempts to connect to it failed. It was very annoying since my service onboard was already spotty. I could not check my emails or simply just scroll through social media to pass time.

The total ride time from Westroads to 10th Street was about half an hour. The entire ride was about as smooth as a bus ride can get.

Masks are required to be worn by drivers and passengers at the station and within the bus. In the bus, there is not any seats blocked off for social distancing. There were not enough riders to tell if the general public would try to socially distance. The busses were built without the pandemic in mind but simply a piece of paper on the seat or signage to remind people to socially distance on board the bus would make me feel safer. Busses are disinfected during the day and evening.

Overall ORBT is a great refresh from the slow and unreliable standard Metro busses. It is a great step forward for public transit in the Omaha area. It shows an insight on what public transit in the metro area could look like in the coming years.