Refugees and Public Transportation

Refugees and Public Transportation 2Purpose Statement: Refugees in our community may face challenges while navigating Omaha’s public transportation system.  Raising awareness may lead to changes in public transportation, orientation for refugees, and increased knowledge of Omaha’s public transportation system.

Goal: We will convene a community discussion to explore the issue of public transportation for refugees in Omaha.  We hope that this exploratory discussion might develop connections between city services, Metro Transit, representatives of the refugee population, refugee community leaders, refugee service organizations, and others.

Event Summary: On Monday, October 28th, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., we hosted our meeting in the Abrahams Branch Library’s Meeting Room.  After weeks of planning, we were eager and a little nervous to see how it would actually unfold.  We invited representatives from the refugee communities in Omaha, Metro Transit (the Omaha bus company), MAPA (Metropolitan Area Planning Agency), and different refugee service agencies (Southern Sudan Community Association [SSCA], Benson Area Refugee Task Force, and Yates Community Center).  Three invitees actually showed up – a refugee community leader/ employee of a refugee service agency and employees from Metro and MAPA.  The refugee community leader had to leave at 5:00 p.m. so her time with us was limited.  An Omaha Public Library librarian with strong connections to the Omaha refugee community also attended.  Her presence was instrumental in illuminating some inroads we could make.


  • Prior to the formal meeting, we had very fruitful interactions with some attendees which allowed us to have a deeper understanding of this issue’s context.
  • We met with someone from Metro Transit and had a tour of the bus station.  This tour was very informative and essential for getting a more complete picture of the issue.
  • The three invitees that did attend were essential.  The meeting would have been far less successful if any one of the three had not attended.
  • Despite the late start and shift in agenda, conversation never lagged and the balance of people participating was good.
  • Everyone was always respectful.  People allowed one another to speak without interruption.
  • Small steps to improve the refugees’ bus experience were identified.  These included a mentoring program where more experienced refugees volunteer to help newer refugees navigate the bus.  This might emerge as a way to improve the transportation experience. Improved signage and landmarks on the printed bus routes were also discussed.
  • “Train the trainer” ideas were also shared.  “Train the trainer” refers to having a group trained to teach new refugees how to ride the bus.
  • Everyone seemed amenable to future meetings.  This was further demonstrated in the responses to the follow-up outcomes measures.


  • Two key attendees showed up at least 15 minutes late. Another attendee had to leave early.
  • Only three of the seven invitees actually showed up even though two others had RSVP’d yes.
  • Starting late changed the way we needed to approach the agenda.  We had to skip around to keep people busy while waiting for others to arrive.
  • Two attendees were familiar with one another and had engaged in earlier conversation.  They brought a bit of “baggage” to this meeting.
  • The conversation had a life of its own.  It was challenging to know when to summarize so we could redirect the group.

Lessons Learned:

  • Expect people to arrive late.
  • Have a “Plan B” with the agenda in case things move in a different direction.
  • Remember that everything is a gift! Even when the conversation doesn’t go according to plan.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Every instance provides a chance to grow and learn.
  • Be careful in what you label a success or failure.
  • Forging connections was the most important outcome for us so the conversation was very beneficial.
  • We have complementary strengths which had made our partnership very rewarding.
  • This topic continues to resonate.  Bus transportation continues to be an issue in Omaha for everyone, not just the refugee population.  We have a greater, well-rounded understanding of this issue.

Self Critique:

  • We both feel that we held back a lot.  The conversation had a tendency to meander when it should have been redirected.
  • We both felt unsure when the conversation went in a direction that conflicted with the agenda.  We weren’t sure how to get the conversation back on track.
  • We fell into roles that fit our comfort levels.  Marvel directed the conversation while Deirdre acted as scribe.
  • Some planned activities seemed awkward or not feasible during the actual meeting.  We both should have taken a more active role in redirecting off-topic conversations.
  • Although we did not touch base enough to make sure we were working as a team, we also avoided getting in one another’s way during the meeting.

Overall Conclusions: Although we were disappointed how the event turned out (low attendance, late arrivals, an early departure, a plan that couldn’t be followed, and much self-criticism), we feel the project has been successful overall.  We made some great connections with Metro Area Transit and Heartland 2050. Both Marvel and Deirdre have done some facilitation work with the Heartland 2050 project.  There is continued interest in the topic by those attending and in Omaha.  We are also glad to experience a not so great event early on so we can learn how to deal with these situations and improve our skills.

Posted by Deirdre Routt, Facilitator-in-Training

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