HILO — The County Council doesn’t want the Big Island to be known as the hand-me-down island and is asking the Mass Transit Administration to quit accepting used buses from other counties.
The council voted 6-2 Wednesday to accept the most recent donation of two buses from Maui, with Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung and Kohala Councilman Tim Richards voting no. The council members said they didn’t want to seem unappreciative, but they also had concerns about maintenance and disposal of used buses.
The county last month took possession of a donated double-decker bus and a 25-passenger 2014 Chevrolet bus from Maui. It cost Hawaii County $11,777 to bring the buses over.
The City and County of Honolulu donated seven buses retired from its fleet last year.
Chung and Richards, along with other council members who ultimately voted in favor of accepting the donation, worry the island could be the dumping ground for other counties facing disposal of aging buses.
“Certainly we want to encourage cooperation between counties and we certainly want to get something for free,” Chung said. “I don’t know how effective this thing is going to be … I think it’s time we just stood on our own two feet already.”
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara saw a problem as well.
“It’s been a concern all along of how we’ve been handling in Mass Transit these hand-me-downs,” O’Hara said. “We have accepted these buses with zero disposal plans. We have approved many, many bus bodies and they’re just sitting around rotting on county property.”
Richardson wants the county to stick to its mass transit plan, which dictates a schedule for bus replacements based on revenue from the general excise and gas taxes.
“While I certainly appreciate the other jurisdictions helping us, I’m not sure how it fits into our existing fleet plans and the longevity of the fleet,” Richards said. “I appreciate the offer and I know Mass Transit needs help; I am just concerned.”
Mass Transit Administrator Maria “Sole” Aranguiz, who was not at the meeting, said afterward that the used bus donations are just a stop-gap measure until the county receives new buses it’s preparing to order.
Six disabled-access 15- to 26-seat buses will be used for regular routes, supplementing larger buses that run the long hauls. The county will pay 20 percent of the cost of each bus, while a federal grant pays 80 percent. The buses are estimated at $120,000 to $140,000 each.
The county is also expecting two new 40-foot buses, as well as electric buses under a $1.5 million grant.
Currently, fewer than 20 of the county’s 55-vehicle fleet are operational, forcing the county into costly daily rentals of tour company vehicles and school buses. Lease costs run about $60,000 monthly.
The new double-decker bus from Maui has yet to hit the road. There was a minor brake problem on the Maui double-decker and Hawaii County’s original bus, bought new in 2011, are still awaiting parts, Aranguiz said.
She said buses take some time to receive because they’re made to order. The first new buses may not hit the road for another year or 18 months, she said.
“It’s an interim, short-term strategy to lower costs,” Aranguiz said. “We have a master plan for longer term, and we are going that route.”