HILO — It’s back to the drawing board for the embattled Hele-On bus service, after a bid protest stopped a contract from being awarded to the winning bidder, Roberts Tours and Transportation Inc.
The delay means the county will continue spending taxpayer money on an expensive alternative to a comprehensive contract.
Instead, Mass Transit will continue its current setup where Polynesian Adventure Tours provides drivers for the existing county buses and PolyAd and Roberts fill in for the shortage of county buses with buses and drivers at a more expensive daily rate. PolyAd’s annual contract expired June 30, 2018, but it has been extended periodically by the county.
During the last fiscal year, the regular bus driver contract paid the privately owned PolyAd tour company $2.86 million, compared to $5.22 million more for the fill-in buses, according to the county Finance Department. Roberts was paid $1.36 million for fill-in buses during the same period, bringing total emergency fill-in bus contracts to $6.58 million.
In comparison, the entire Mass Transit budget that year was $15.7 million. New buses run from $300,000 to $600,000 each.
Mass Transit is responsible for 33 routes on the Big Island, which requires a total of 55 buses in order to have spares. Only 10 or 12 are currently operable.
The County Council on Oct. 2 approved a resolution giving Mass Transit the go-ahead for a three-year contract, combining the regular county routes with fill-in buses as needed. Roberts was declared the winning bidder Oct. 10 but the contract was later withdrawn.
Roberts and PolyAd were the only bidders.
Mass Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira referred questions to the Finance Department.
A new request for proposals should go out by Friday or early next week, Deputy Finance Director Steve Hunt said Tuesday. If all goes as planned, that will wrap up in 60 days and allow a new contract to go into effect in March or April, he said. The contract would be for three years with two optional continuation years.
“We’re hoping the contracts come in competitively even with the additional clarifications,” Hunt said. “Both bids came in below what we’re paying now. … We anticipate over time we’ll be using fewer of the vendors’ buses and more of our own.”
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who along with Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz voted no on the resolution for the three-year contract, wants to know more. She’s asked for a briefing at a Nov. 19 council committee meeting.
Lee Loy, who chairs the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, had objected to approving the three-year deal without knowing how much it would cost. She declined further comment until she heard from the administration.
Phone messages left for executives at Roberts and PolyAd were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.