Roberts buses to service Big Island schools
By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor
The Department of Education yesterday reached an agreement with Roberts Hawai'i School Bus to pick up 45 Big Island routes formerly handled by a company that abruptly terminated its contract.
Officials advised parents that the buses would be running today, but that there may be some delays. Bus service will not be available to students attending two public charter schools Hawai'i Academy of Arts & Sciences in Hilo and Kanu O Ka Aina in Waimea.
All routes are expected to be operating normally by early next week, DOE officials said.
The routes formerly handled by V. Bragado Bus Service served about 1,700 students at nearly 20 schools, most in East Hawai'i. All but about a half-dozen of the campuses don't open the school year until next week.
Bragado officially notified the DOE in early August that it would not be able to fulfill its contract, said Cynthia Kawachi, acting DOE student transportation services manager. Company officials told the state in June they were experiencing difficulties in meeting contract requirements, but they were optimistic they would be able to resolve the situation, she said.
Kawachi would not say what the difficulties were, but she did say that all school bus companies are required to obtain performance bonds.
Bragado officials could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Kawachi said it's unusual for a school bus company to back out of a contract at the last minute. She said the DOE was not anticipating trouble with bus service anywhere else in the state.
"It's not very often that this happens. Unfortunately, it's a reflection of the general economic times," she said.
It was "bad timing" that the company delivered the news to the DOE while Kawachi was on vacation, and there was a delay in handling the matter, she said.
Roberts Hawai'i received a DOE request Aug. 13 to provide emergency bus service, said spokeswoman Sam Shenkus. The company submitted a proposal by the Aug. 15 deadline, but did not hear from the DOE until 2:40 pm. yesterday, Shenkus said.
Kawachi said time was needed to allow the attorney general's office to review the emergency contract, which covers a 180-day period.
Roberts is Hawai'i's biggest tour and transportation company. Its school bus subsidiary has routes on Kaua'i, Maui, O'ahu and the Big Island.
The company is buying 42 school buses from Bragado, Shenkus said, and will be hiring drivers.
Principals at the affected schools learned only yesterday that bus transportation was in jeopardy.
At Kohala Elementary, Principal Eleanor Laszlo spent an anxious day yesterday wondering whether buses would be available for today's start of classes. About 80 percent of the school's 430 students catch the bus, she said.
Waimea Intermediate Principal Jon Znamierowski had a little more breathing room because the school doesn't open until Monday. He said about 95 percent of his 540 students ride the bus, some from as far away as 30 miles.