Fare hikes may reduce bus cuts
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
Mayor Jeremy Harris is willing to do a comprehensive review of all city bus fares, including new increases, if that can help stave off more service cuts, City Council members were told yesterday.
The proposal, coming less than a month after the last fare increase, could include raising the cost of monthly and senior passes, changing the current transfer system, and innovations such as higher fares for peak-hour users, Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon said.
The cost of a monthly bus pass and one-way fares increased July 1, but the city's bus system still faces a $4.6 million shortfall this year, requiring a 6 percent cut in bus service.
"Increasing revenues is the only way to address the issue. We've got to get it on the table," Soon told members of the City Council's Transportation Committee, who said they are getting "hammered" by complaints from riders angry about the first round of service cuts, which took effect in June.
The city is planning to cut an additional 80,000 hours of bus service starting next month. Those cuts will reduce the number of runs on most routes and increase the time between buses.
"This is one of the hardest things we've had to do in several years. Not one single person involved wants to be in this position, but it's a reality of the budget situation," Soon said. The cuts will bring the total number of service hours back to the level they were in 2000, she said.
"Faced with potential loss of service, I think riders would be willing to pay more, but any increase in revenue would have to go to services," she said.
Several committee members said they'd like to see the proposal as soon as possible.
"I'd like to see a proposal in time to be discussed in the September meeting," Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia said. "If we're going to look at any changes, we have to make sure we do it as comprehensibly as possible."
It would take at least three months before any fare increases could be implemented.
Soon said Honolulu's $30 cost for a monthly bus pass is the lowest in the nation for similar-sized cities. Several committee members said they thought riders would be willing to pay more for better service.
"The public has definitely spoken," said councilman Donovan Dela Cruz. "We have to work harder at raising revenues."
Garcia said the council could also consider changing a city ordinance that requires that fare-box revenues account for between 27 percent and 33 percent of the total cost of bus service, which last year was about $121.6 million. The rest of the budget comes from the city's general fund and federal grants.
It costs about $64 an hour to run a city bus, Soon said.
"We're not alone," she said. "Fare increases and cutbacks are happening at every major transit agency in the country."
The cuts are a key issue in a looming strike by city bus drivers and other workers. The union representing the workers said the cutbacks could mean the loss of 40 full-time jobs; O'ahu Transportation Services has proposed early retirement and four-day work week options to avoid layoffs.
Soon said the city administration does not intend to submit a supplemental budget request asking for more money for the bus.
The two sides resumed bargaining yesterday. No date has been set for a strike, but it could come as early as mid-August, officials said.