Bus system expansion a good idea, but funding concerns remain

Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura is right. 

Kauai needs to expand its bus system. It needs more buses, bigger buses, bus routes and bus stops. It needs bus shelters. When you consider the traffic troubles on this island, when you consider how much it costs to add roads and lanes, how expensive it is to repair roads because of so many vehicles on them, one of the least costly ways to address this long-standing problem would be an improved bus system.

Last year, ridership numbers totaled nearly 800,000 for The Kauai Bus, a dramatic increase from 429,000 just five years ago. Those figures are based on the current bus system that offers limited stops, can leave riders waiting for long periods of time, require them to walk long distances to reach a stop, and finally, leave them sitting or standing in rain, wind or sun since there are few shelters.

An expanded bus system would, we believe, achieve its goal of reducing traffic on our crowded roads and even reduce road repairs. And hopefully, it would reduce the demands for more and costly roads. An expanded bus system, one that would serve both residents and visitors with equal ease, would be a welcome addition on Kauai. As well, even if roads and lanes are increased in the years ahead, even if the highways are improved, eventually public transportation will have to be part of the solution to ease Kauai’s traffic.

However, reservations remain about the proposal to fund said bus expansion by adding a county .75 percent surcharge on the state’s general excise tax, currently set at 4 percent. Considering that the county raised taxes on vehicles, trash and many properties, this is not the best of times to propose increasing the GET. For some, it’s reaching that point where folks are saying, “This county council hasn’t seen a tax yet it doesn’t like.” With the recent property tax increases, for some, still hurting, it would be best not to pursue this tax hike now. Discuss it, yes. Maybe at another time, farther down the road, when residents have recovered from these latest tax hikes, they might be receptive to funding bus expansion.

Before a tax hike proposal is acted upon, it would be best if the county crunched some numbers, considered some scenarios based on having a certain number of buses, stops, routes, riders and fares, and offered some preliminary figures on whether an expansion would be financially self-sustaining. It would not want to expand the bus system to the tune of $8 million a year, then find the system running in the red and have to raise fares so high riders returned to their cars.

A survey of residents and visitors, too, on their thoughts about the need for improved public transit, how to fund it and whether they would use it, would prove useful. It makes sense that a bus system with more routes and stops would receive increased use.

While questions of funding and cost of an expanded Kauai Bus system remain, it is something we believe would, in the long haul, benefit our roads and residents.

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