Mass Transit Administrator Brenda Carreira hopes to have 10 minibuses donated from Honolulu running routes next month on Hawaii Island.
Getting the 22-plus-year-old retired buses operating will shave 10% — or $20,000 — off the $200,000 the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency is spending per week to contract Roberts Hawaii to cover routes the county can’t because of dozens of downed vehicles in its 55-bus fleet.
“I’m really hoping we’re going to get them next month. A lot of it will depend on the shipping schedule. But I think as far as the transfer of title, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. It’s actually the shipping schedule,” said Carreira. “But man, I will really try, and this is going to be a top priority to get these buses here.”
Carreira said plans call for the donated buses to be utilized on routes where ridership is low, such as the intra-Hilo and North Kohala routes, as well as to supplement routes as needed, such as when South Kohala resort ridership exceeds capacity, which is expected to happen as resorts along the coast reopen.
“So, now, rather than telling the ridership that I don’t have extra buses, if we need to add on to any route, that’s where they would go,” Carreira told the Committee on Finance, which took up Resolution 776-20 on Tuesday, approving the donation of the 10 retired buses by a vote of eight ayes, with Kohala Councilman Tim Richards absent.
The 30-foot Gillig buses were acquired by the City and County of Honolulu in 1998. They are being donated to the county because the City and County of Honolulu has acquired new buses per its procurement schedule set by Federal Transit Administration regulations, according to Jon Nouchi, acting director for the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Transportation Services.
“Had we not procured new buses on our procurement schedule, we would likely have kept these buses for probably, I mean, I think they could have gone for another five to 10 years easily,” he said. … “These buses have a lot of good life in them. And they’ve actually had — I feel like we’re talking about animals here — they’ve actually had a fairly good life here; they’ve only run really short routes up and down the hills.”
Built with high-powered engines, the buses were designed to be “hill climbers,” geared to handle steep grades and switchback turns. They’re also 6 inches narrower and match the fleet of seven buses Honolulu donated to the county several years ago.
“They have the same doors, same size windows, all the parts match up to the previous fleet that we’ve turned over to Hawaii County in the past. So, I think it would be a really good addition to the fleet that you guys already are running with us,” said Nouchi, adding that “in fact, they’re in better condition than some of the buses that we run here every day. It’s just because of the size, we replace them all.”
The acting director was unable to provide an actual or average mileage estimate for retired minibuses, but said Honolulu must keep the buses for at least 12 years or 500,000 miles.
“We are running buses that are 23 and 24 years old, in daily service, that have far more miles than that here in Honolulu. The ones running in Honolulu actually have over a million miles on most of them. So these buses, while we do have to check the miles on them, I do believe they have a lot more life to go,” said Nouchi. … “They’ve been cared for pretty well. And I don’t want to make it sound like it was only driven by a little lady who used it for church on Sundays, but that’s kind of the characterization. They’ve done really short runs, for their whole service life.”
Shipping of the 10 26,800-pound buses is anticipated to cost $30,000 via Young Brothers, including the recent 46% rate hike. Carreira said she didn’t have exact figures as the estimate was based off information gleaned from the shipper’s website because the company couldn’t be reached.
She also admitted not reaching out to Young Brothers or other companies to see if they might donate the service, as prior administrators had secured.
“I will confess this here: I didn’t do that. Because during this pandemic, I’m not sure which one of them had asked for help from the Legislature because of the financial hardship. So I did not pursue that angle of trying to get the donation — I didn’t. I’m sorry. I just didn’t think it was right,” Carreira said.
The value of the donation is estimated at $50,000, or $5,000 per bus.
“I was taught from early, you never look a gift horse in the mouth. I appreciate the buses, regardless of age, mileage, whatever is going on with them. We need buses, mini buses,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder. “And in lieu of some of the budgetary restrictions we may have going forward with state money in 2021-2022, and our budgeted projections in buying buses with GE surcharge money, I think these will be much-needed and much appreciated.”
Once the donation is approved by the county, titles can be transferred and vehicles shipped to Hawaii Island. Hawaii County drivers are already trained to operate the buses, allowing them to get right into operation.
Robert’s Tours and Transportation Inc., doing business as Roberts Hawaii, won the county contract to supplement county mass transit services after a competitive bidding process and a bid protest. The system was formerly run by Polynesian Adventure Tours.
The terms of the agreement include an initial three years with two one-year options to renew upon agreement by both parties. Rates for services is based on hourly rates for drivers and buses submitted by Robert’s Tours and Transportation, Inc. and billed to the County based on actual usage.
The county earlier this year welcomed four new 25-foot buses its fleet funded via grant. The $5.1 million in federal funding announced last fall was to fund a total of 10 buses for the county. A donated hydrogen bus is set to be added to the fleet this year.