New mass transit administrator hits the ground running

  • Transit Administrator Maria “Sole” Aranguiz at her new office in the Hilo baseyard on Thursday. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Maria “Sole” Aranguiz is aware the county’s bus system has hit a few bumps in the road.

She knows about the $500,000 mass transit study that takes a long-term approach to improving the system. She’s heard there is a legislative audit on cash management just about to be completed. She’s mindful the new $11.3 million Hilo baseyard is slowly coming together more than a year behind schedule.


But, from the moment Aranguiz planted her black work boots on the Big Island and took over the Mass Transit Agency about two weeks ago, she’s been focused on first things first.

“The most immediate goal here is to get those buses running,” Aranguiz said Thursday during an interview with West Hawaii Today at the new baseyard.

Aranguiz took over an agency plagued with problems. Ridership has dropped by almost a third as frequent Hele-On bus breakdowns make the buses unreliable for commuting.

Only 30 of the 55-bus fleet were reportedly operating when Mayor Harry Kim took over in December. Currently, only 18 are, forcing the county into costly daily rentals of tour company vehicles and school buses.

“We’re getting more repaired,” she said.

A dynamo packed in a petite frame, Aranguiz has hit the ground running.

Although the bulk of the new baseyard’s interior equipment — such as for the gleaming new work bays for mechanics — has yet to be installed, Aranguiz has set up her office in the facility, where buses are stored between runs. All that’s missing, she said, are route maps to drape the walls.

For Aranguiz, customer service is the key. One of her first actions was to open a small office at the county building in Hilo, where two employees address disabled riders’ concerns, answer questions and sell bus tickets and coupons. The goal is to bring the transit system to the people.

Repairing and replacing buses to make the bus system reliable, keeping them clean and communicating more clearly with the public are major goals.

“We are truly committed to being good stewards of items purchased with public funds,” she said.

Aranguiz was formerly chief of systems planning and forecasting for the California Department of Transportation before taking the Hawaii County job. She has a bachelor’s degree in geography and urban planning and graduate work in public administration from California State University at San Bernardino.


The county position pays $69,084-$127,284 annually. Aranguiz was one of five qualified applicants who applied.

“We were looking for a manager,” Kim said. “I hope we hit that home run, and I believe we did.”

  1. Buds4All March 6, 2018 10:34 am Reply

    Left the Barn door open on this one…..”New mass transit administrator hits the ground running”….how else could she get around as most of the Buses don’t run!

    1. Pest Outwest March 6, 2018 11:10 am Reply

      There are more things to laugh at in this article than the title. Like “the new $11.3 million Hilo baseyard is slowly coming together more than a year behind schedule”. I mean, can we all just agree from now on never to use the word “schedule” in Hawaii? It’s a meaningless word in context. “Competence” is another candidate.

      Then there’s this, “Only 30 of the 55-bus fleet were reportedly operating when Mayor Harry Kim took over in December. Currently, only 18 are”. So apparently no one else involved with the bus system could figure out how to keep 12 buses running until Ms. Aranguiz came along. Hope she brought her tools, because no one else can maintain buses it appears.

      1. Buds4All March 6, 2018 11:46 am Reply

        Incorrect POutwest…..the guy that stole the buses twice could do it!

        1. Pest Outwest March 6, 2018 2:11 pm Reply

          It’s a fair point, unless he also stole a county tow truck to steal the bus. That boy loved vehicles.

  2. onceawarrior March 6, 2018 1:25 pm Reply

    Problem solving needs correct identification of the problem first.
    Apparently the solution was to simply replace a poor reputation.
    I hope the selected one is the most qualified.
    And that in due time, passenger service would improve steadily and reliably.

  3. KonaRich March 6, 2018 3:00 pm Reply

    You think they will start pay at $70K to start, or closer to $127K.? Maria “Sole” Aranguiz has nice hands, not seeing much grease under her fingernails though. This endeavor will be a total money pit along with the Na’alehu theater when purchased. Suggestion; let build a electric rapid transit here on the Big Island say 20 miles for $8+ Billion. Let get started!!

    1. KonaDude March 9, 2018 4:48 am Reply

      I think you know the answer already but I can’t help myself. They will start her near the $127k mark then give her a raise next year when nothing improves.

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