Bus ridership way down on Hawaii’s Big Island, experts say

HILO, Hawaii — Bus ridership on Hawaii’s Big Island has dropped by about one third over the last four years, according to consultants working on a master plan for the island’s bussing system.

An unreliable aging fleet is mostly to blame for the ridership decline, the consultants said at a meeting on Monday, West Hawaii Today reported .

The system is struggling with a shortage of working buses and the county is spending thousands of dollars a day for backup buses and drivers from private companies.

The County Council voted in 2015 to have a $500,000 study done and Honolulu-based SSFM International was chosen to conduct it. It’s the first time in the bus system’s 40-year history a master plan has been attempted.

“We feel we can get (riders) back if the buses are reliable,” said SSFM’s Cheryl Soon, adding that a fare hike and low gas prices might have also contributed to the drop. “There are a lot of people who want this to be their first choice.”

Twenty five of the 55 busses in the fleet were out of commission when Mayor Harry Kim took over in December because they needed major repairs.

Since then, former Transit Administrator Tiffany Kai has been reassigned and consultant Curt Sharp’s contract has lapsed, leaving officials in seek of a permanent administrator for the bussing system.

The council budgeted $14 million this year for transit operations and improvements, up slightly from last year. Half of the money comes from the general fund, which comes primarily from property taxes, and half comes from the highway fund, collected from gas taxes and franchise fees to utilities.

Federal grants account for $1.2 million of the budget, and with fares accounting for $960,000, the county pays an average $11.77 per rider. Riders pay $1-$2 fares, depending on their age and whether they have disabilities.

The island’s buses transport just under a million passengers annually, consultants said.

Consultants plan a second round of hearings after the draft master plan is completed in early 2018.


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