Electric bus demonstrates inertia

West Hawaii Today file photo A Hele-On logo is pictured.

HILO — An electric bus loaned to the county as a demonstration project has been parked unused at the Mass Transit baseyard since early 2018, despite council members’ enthusiasm for zero-emission buses.

Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira, who took over the agency Nov. 1, said the bus, complete with a portable charger, was received in February 2018. The administration hesitated to use it because of liability questions since the county, which is self-insured, didn’t own it. The insurance problem has since been resolved, but now the county has to get license plates, she told a council committee Tuesday.


The council created an ad hoc committee to investigate the implementation of the zero-emission buses, known as “ZEBs,” and report back to the full council in six months. The ad hoc committee will be chaired by Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, with Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder as members.

The council also approved the nonbinding Resolution 205, urging the administration to acquire hydrogen-powered buses. And a council committee gave preliminary approval for the acceptance from the state Surplus Property Office a 2015 F550 Aero Elite hydrogen bus with an original cost value of $105,424.

Cheryl Soon, a consultant with Honolulu-based consulting firm SSFM International, cautioned council members to temper their enthusiasm.

“Just go a little bit slow. Please make sure they work here,” Soon told the council. “I’m familiar with their use in Honolulu and there have been issues.”

“Lets make sure we can achieve our energy goal, but it doesn’t come at the cost of our transportation,” Soon added.

Of course, responded Richards.

“You raised a concern about bracing new technology without being sure it will work,” Richards said. “We are very mindful of that. None of us want to saddle the county with something that may not work. However we’re very interested in exploring as we go forward.”

Meanwhile, the county is still so short of working diesel buses it’s renting 18-20 per day at expensive daily rates from Polynesian Adventure Tours.

Of the county fleet, 14 are operation and 16 are being repaired, Carreira said, and the county has disposed of nine or 10 buses.

The county is on a buying spree. This year, the agency plans to buy five 40-foot buses and three 25-foot buses in addition to the four 30-foot buses already ordered. Also, a federal grant application is being completed for 10 more 40-foot buses.

“I know we’re kind of accelerating things, but we have to strike while the iron is hot,” Carreira said.

Pahoa testifier Joyce Folena was appreciative of the efforts. The Hele-On system has come a long way but still has a long way to go, she said.

“Anything and everything you could do to help our mass transit systems is greatly appreciated by thousands and thousands of people on the Big Island,” she said. “There are so many people here who can’t afford a car or the car needs help.”

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