LIHUE — Kauai County is looking to adopt new rules for county bus stops.
The proposed rules state that county bus stops will be closed for use between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.; that alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, including e-cigs, will be prohibited at county bus stops; that no structures will be erected within the bus stop or adjacent to the bus stop; and no person will occupy a bus stop in a way that inhibits full use by the public.
A person who is convicted of breaking these rules could be fined $100 or more, imprisoned for a period not exceeding 10 days, or both.
“This is the first time we’re actually going out to set up administrative rules,” said Celia Mahikoa, executive on transportation for Kauai County. “This has been prompted by the need to address individuals staying overnight within bus stops.”
A public hearing on the proposal was held Friday.
The problem of overnight guests at bus stops has increased, Mahikoa said, as the county has began to improve the stops around the island.
“We’re seeing that it’s tending to be a more attractive place for folks to hang out, rather than just our passengers, which is what prompted this,” Mahikoa said.
One woman, El Aina DaNine, has been living at a county bus stop in Kapaa for more than a year. She eats and sleeps there, chats with people, reads and keeps some of her things there. She lived on the beaches for a time before settling at the bus stop, which offers cover and some safety as it’s along the busy Kuhio Highway. People sometimes bring her food.
But some have complained she takes up the entire bench and riders can’t sit down to wait for the bus.
In November, TGI asked the county why DaNine was allowed to live at the bus stop.
The county sent this response: “County of Kauai officials have met with this individual on numerous occasions since March. Officials and police officers have offered her assistance in relocating and referred her to seek help from various resource agencies. However, she has politely declined all offers.
“We can understand the frustration from bus riders who frequent this stop, and the county is working on ways to prohibit loitering at bus stops when the bus is not in operation. Before we move forward, the county will work with the community, the County Council and fellow county agencies to create a fair solution for all users of the bus.”
DaNine, a Christian, speaks of God often. She talks of following this path God set her on. She enthusiastically outlines her plans to start a church on the North Shore.
She said if she is forced to move, she will “inquire with the Holy Spirit, and maybe have prayer before the council meeting.”
During a public comment session at Friday’s hearing, several people participated in a discussion that lasted about 45 minutes.
“If this issue isn’t resolved, there may not be bus stops available in the future for the senior population,” said Manga Goosen, who works with senior citizens, many of whom take the bus. “It’s a good step forward and I hope it’s not going to be a year or more in how long this takes.”
Mahikoa said the Transportation Agency receives many calls asking the county to do something about the issue.
“Setting up the rules is one part, and beyond that will be the enforcement of which any infractions will need to be reported in, and then the enforcers will be, as they’re available, carrying out enforcement of our rules,” Mahikoa said.
Until the rules are implemented, Alice Parker asked if there was a way to stop people from misusing bus stops.
“That’s why these are being proposed right now,” said Jeremy Lee, program specialist for the Transportation Agency. “There’s nothing within county ordinances law, KPD or us to enforce people staying at the bus stop like in Kapaa, or misusing bus stops in inappropriate ways.”
Currently, Mahikoa said the only thing they can do is to ask these individuals to leave. If the new rules are passed, she said, they’ll post signs at the bus stops and then they’ll be enforceable.
Patrick McLean, who lives one door down from a bus stop in Kekaha, said the stop has been a constant source of nuisance, with people loitering and dealing drugs.
“The reality is, it’s kids with idle hands at the end of the day,” he said.
McLean said people in his neighborhood have been keeping an eye on the bus stop and doing what they can to deter the negative activity. He also said there are 8-year-olds riding their bikes on the street, who are interacting with older kids — and that’s not a good thing.
“We want people to be able to use it at the end of the day, but not abuse it,” McLean said.
He also asked about the possibility of installing security cameras at the bus stops.
Community involvement in getting the rules passed through the council is an important part of the process, Lee said.
Several residents weighed in on the issue when asked.
“I think they’re good rules,” said Andre Cohen. “I think if there’s a ‘no smoking’ rule it helps us breathe and people sleeping should probably be somewhere else, under a tree somewhere else, not really loitering where people need to catch buses.”
Eduardo Valenciana of Lihue has depended solely on the bus system and his bike to get around for nearly two decades, said he supports the bus rules. But he is also in support of a positive resolution for those individuals who find themselves having no other alternative but to sleep at the bus stop.
He also agreed with the “no smoking” rule.
“Anything to help the ohana on Kauai is beneficial in all aspects and I’m for that,” he said.
Mary Simmons, who depends on the bus for her transportation needs, supports the new rules.
“We see a lot of people sleeping on there, a lot of people smoking over here,” she said.
Simmons said she would be a happier customer once the rules are implemented and enforced, especially the “no smoking” rule.
“We got the kupunas sitting there, we’ve got the younger children sitting there, so it will be nice to have that,” she said.
Mahikoa said the Transportation Agency hopes to have the rules signed off by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. by the end of the month and then moved to the County Council.