Brenda Carreira, the longest-serving Mass Transit administrator in more than a decade, is no longer at the helm of the troubled agency.
Carreira, who took over two and a half years ago, was asked last week to step down by Mayor Mitch Roth’s administration, according to county employees who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. Carreira didn’t return a voicemail or text message to her cellphone by press-time Tuesday.
Managing Director Lee Lord said Tuesday morning Trixy Groaning, administrative services assistant in the department, has been temporarily assigned to the administrator’s position. Lord declined to say whether Carreira was on administrative leave, saying only that she remained an employee of the county.
The position of transit administrator is a civil service position offering some employee protections, unlike mayoral appointees who serve at the will of the county’s top elected official. The salary range for the position is $87,036 to $144,864 annually.
The news was circulating Monday among bus drivers and bus riders concerned about the future of an agency that has often faltered due to broken down buses, unreliable schedules and most recently, curtailment of the number of allowed riders because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lord said he expected business to continue as usual.
“I’ve asked all the staff to do what they normally do,” Lord said. “There should be no blips in the whole thing.”
Before taking the county job on Nov. 1, 2018, as the third administrator that year, Carreira had more than a decade of experience with Polynesian Adventure Tours and Roberts Hawaii, ending up operations manager for Roberts Hawaii.
She told the County Council last month that there was only one working bus when she took over, and she’d been working to get more county buses on the road. So far, that’s about 14. In the meantime, the agency has relied on contracted buses from her former employers in the private sector to keep the system patched together.
A master plan, money from a new general excise tax and a step-by-step process to get routes and buses squared away had seemed to be working before the virus upended the process. The agency has even added electric buses to the fleet.
But Carreira faced a tough crowd last month during departmental budget hearings before the County Council Finance Committee.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, chairwoman of the Public Works and Mass Transit Committee, questioned Carreira’s ridership figures and average $18 county cost per rider, since the numbers presented weren’t broken out into averages for passengers riding the bus, those using the more expensive para-transit system and those using coupons for shared taxi rides.
“I’m not happy with this budget,” Lee Loy said at the time. “Actually I really want to tear it out. It’s not going to work — we’re going to fail our community.”
Lee Loy said Monday she’s hoping for a good outcome.
“Without knowing all the details around the administration’s decision, the council has been a strong supporter of a reliable mass transit system,” Lee Loy said. “We’ve assisted the agency with an audit, mass transit master plan and resources. With the upcoming budget discussion it would be ideal for Mayor Roth to give the council his plan to keep this needed service running.”
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards has been monitoring the progress of the agency. He noted that its budget has doubled from $10 million to $20 million in the four years since he took office in late 2016.
“There’s been no one more critical of Mass Transit than I,” Richards said. “Brenda is the best we have had at least since I office. … I desperately want Mass Transit to succeed.”
Carreira had asked the council for funding for a deputy administrator position to help handle the workload of the small agency of fewer than 20 employees, a request not well-met by the council, which said other positions seemed more important, such as a mechanic and data analyst.