By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
Circle Aug. 25 on your calendar.
By all accounts, that Monday is shaping up as doomsday for O'ahu drivers. It might be a good morning to sleep late or, better yet, call in sick.
Tuesday, Aug. 26, could be even worse.
That is the day that the annual back-to-school traffic jam coincides with proposed cuts in city bus service and, not coincidentally, a possible bus strike. If that doesn't put the fear of gridlock into Honolulu's traffic planners, nothing will.
The back-to-school problem is bad enough.
For the first time in nearly a decade, most of Honolulu's big private schools and universities are starting classes on or about the same day. Here's a look at how it breaks down:
- Aug. 21-26, Kamehameha Schools (3,824 students).
- Aug. 25, University of Hawai'i-Manoa and three community colleges (33,346 students).
- Aug. 25, Punahou School (3,740 students)
- Aug. 25, Chaminade University (1,100 students).
- Aug. 26, Iolani School (1,835 students).
It was just such a conjunction of school starting dates in 1984 that first demonstrated how O'ahu's suburban sprawl and love of private schooling could combine to ruin the quality of life for a lot of people. On that day, traffic was so bad across the island that people as far away as Mililani and Waipi'o couldn't get out of their driveways without a five-minute wait.
The same thing happened again in 1986. On that day, all, the back-to-school traffic was compounded by several accidents on H-1 Freeway resulting in what a lot of drivers still think of as The Day Honolulu Stood Still. Some people coming in from Central and Leeward O'ahu were stuck in traffic for up to four hours; many others simply turned around and went home.
After that, the city and state officials launched their annual Beat the School Jam campaigns and they've met with some success.
For the most part, the largest private schools and public universities have been able to spread out their opening dates in recent years, easing the build-up over several weeks.
Drivers also have learned to find alternatives to avoid the school-daze crunch, and there's been no major gridlock since. We've started car pools and van pools; we've left home earlier and later.
And we've learned to send our children to school on buses; O'ahu Transit Services reports that ridership usually increases by more than 20,000 a day when school starts.
This year, though, there could be fewer buses on Aug. 25. And there could be no buses at all come Aug. 26.
As of now, city officials are still planning to institute major cuts in bus service on Aug. 24. By the next day, the cuts will mean the elimination of 19 daily bus runs around O'ahu and an increase of one to five minutes between buses on most urban and suburban routes.
City officials say the reduced service is needed to offset a $4.6 million reduction in the operating budget for the buses, which are run under contract by the private OTS. The reduction in services could mean the loss of 40 full-time jobs at OTS.
Which brings us to Aug. 26, the date of a proposed strike by bus drivers and other OTS workers. The union says its workers will stay home from work that day unless the service cuts are restored, the jobs secured and they receive other benefits they're asking for in a new contract.
There's still some hope that the cuts and a strike can be averted. The City Council's Transportation and Budget committees are scheduled to meet this morning to hear testimony on possible bus-fare increases that could be used to help balance the OTS budget.
If the fare proposal receives a favorable response from City Council members, the city says it might call off its budget cuts and, hopefully, avert a walkout.
Until you hear otherwise, though, it might be good to start making alternative travel plans for Aug. 25 and 26 like taking a long vacation at home.
Mike Leidemann's Drive Time column appears every Tuesday. Reach him at 525-5460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.