By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska was recently awarded a $3.4 million grant from the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) to improve, promote and support public transit agencies across the state.
The funding extends through June 2024 a partnership between the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha and NDOT focused on creating a safer, more efficient and more reliable public transportation system for all Nebraskans while addressing the unique mobility challenges many rural residents face.
UNK’s Nebraska Safety Center, part of the College of Business and Technology, will receive $1.9 million and UNO will get $1.5 million. The campuses previously split a $5.8 million NDOT grant awarded in 2017.
“This funding allows us to continue the important work of promoting and enhancing rural transit options for Nebraskans. We’re excited to expand this project over the next two years,” said Kaitlyn Richardson, rural transportation manager at the Safety Center.
The NDOT-sponsored program started in 2013 with a $639,329 grant awarded to the Safety Center to provide free training for public transit drivers in areas such as defensive driving; passenger assistance, safety and sensitivity; CPR and first aid; emergency procedures; and distracted driving prevention. Since then, nearly 1,400 drivers have received the required training.
In addition to the Safety Center headquarters and driving range in Kearney, courses are offered in Beatrice, Columbus, Hartington, Kimball, Lincoln, Norfolk, North Platte, Omaha, Scottsbluff and Seward. Online training is available, as well.
“Driver training remains the biggest component of this project for the Safety Center. Not only do drivers get the required NDOT training through our curriculum, but they also have the opportunity to network with other transit drivers across the state,” Richardson said. “This gives them a chance to see what other agencies do differently while gaining valuable knowledge throughout their career.”
Along with the training component, experts from the Safety Center, UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research and NDOT work together to expand access to public transportation, particularly in rural areas that lack convenient or affordable options.
Through its Mobility Management projects, the program aims to improve services and maximize existing resources by providing direct planning, coordination and public outreach for agencies statewide. Assistance is also available with Federal Transit Administration regulations.
Nebraska’s public transit agencies recorded nearly 2 million passenger boardings in 2021 and traveled almost 5.5 million miles.
“For many Nebraskans, public transit is a lifeline that allows them to visit family and friends, go to medical appointments, hold a job or attend school,” Richardson said. “The Nebraska Safety Center is proud to play a part in that.”
Created by the state Legislature in 1978, the Nebraska Safety Center serves as a hub for safety training and education in five areas – traffic, industrial, home, fire and recreation. Staff are located in Kearney and at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.
The state will celebrate Nebraska Public Transit Week from April 17-23. For more information on events and activities, visit www.nebraskatransit.com.