The federal government is giving Hawaii County money for 10 new buses, plus an extra $4.5 million for operations.
The operations grant is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and is intended to help cover extra expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic and compensate for lost revenue. The amount was determined by a formula handed down first from the federal government and then the state, even though the county brings in only about $1 million in fares annually. The money will also be used for sanitizing the buses.
The new bus grant for $5.1 million will purchase 10 40-foot or 45-foot buses to replace buses in the county’s aging Hele-On fleet. After purchasing no new buses since 2014, the county bought four smaller buses earlier this year and has more on order.
“These are motor coaches and it can take at least one year from awarding the bid to delivery, but because of the pandemic I believe that it will be longer,” Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira said.
The County Council accepted the money through actions Wednesday.
The four new 25-passenger buses are currently getting only limited use as social distancing rules allow for only seven passengers at a time. Instead of the Puna routes originally anticipated, the buses are supplementing Hilo and Waimea routes.
But other buses could be arriving soon, Carreira said. The agency is expecting to put out bids soon for and additional nine motor coaches and four paratransit vans.
The latest buses from the new grant will also be purchased through a request for proposals, leading Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder to ask that any RFP include the use of alternate fuels, instead of the county’s current reliance on diesel.
“Please incorporate alternative fuel vehicles,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said.
Finance Director Deanna Sako said the county was prohibited from purchasing alternative fuel vehicles in the previous grant and she’s unsure whether the current one contains the same prohibition.
“I have to check the requirements of the grant,” Sako said. “That was one of the problems with the earlier grants.”