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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

Council to weigh new bus rate plan

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

A new bus fare plan has been introduced at the City Council that is friendlier to senior citizens and others on a fixed income than a proposal submitted earlier in the week, some council members say.

"We felt that some of the pass increases were really too high and we just can't have people who really need the service but can't afford it," said Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz.

He and Councilwoman Barbara Marshall introduced the new draft of Bill 53 after raising objections to portions of another proposal to cover the bus system's $6.8 million shortfall. They said they believe their plan would generate $6.8 million a year, but Mayor Jeremy Harris yesterday said it would only add $1.8 million annually.

The new draft and the proposal submitted earlier this week will be discussed on Monday at 9 a.m. during a joint Budget and Transportation committee meeting.

An additional $6.8 million a year would allow the bus company to scuttle a plan to cut 100,000 service hours a year. The Hawai'i Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996, representing more than 1,300 striking bus drivers, objected to the service cuts, saying it could lead to layoffs of up to 40 union employees.

The draft introduced earlier in the week by Council Chairman Gary Okino changed the senior and disability passes from $25 for two years to $60 for one year and increased the youth monthly pass from $13.50 to $18.50.

The Dela Cruz/Marshall plan would charge senior citizens and those with disabilities $25 a year for a pass. In addition, there would be no increase in adult and youth passes for riders who fall in the federal Housing and Urban Development "very low income" limits.

The price for an adult fare would rise to $2 from $1.75 under the Dela Cruz/Marshall plan, whereas it would be dropped to $1 under Okino's proposal. The Dela Cruz

/Marshall plan would also increase the youth pass to $20, rather than the $18.50 under Okino's plan.

"We tried to spread it across the board," Marshall said.

Harris said he would prefer the earlier plan, which reduces the single fare and increases passes.

"Number one, it brings in the appropriate amount of money to balance the budget. Number two, it corrects problems in our fare structure that have developed over the years," he said.

Harris said the earlier plan would bring fares more in line with what is going on across the country.

He also said the Dela Cruz/Marshall plan would fall $5 million short of balancing the budget.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the good part about the Dela Cruz/Marshall plan is that it lowers the bus pass for the seniors, but in doing so it must raise adult fare to $2 without transfers. Both drafts eliminate the transfer system for cash fares, although Dela Cruz said he would like to see "a fair-and-reasonable system for transfers."

Marshall said she expected that people who transferred frequently would purchase monthly passes, but Kobayashi said she has heard from people who only catch the bus a couple times a week.

People who live in valleys or on St. Louis Heights "have to catch a bus to get out of the valley, then they would have to pay another $2 to get into town," Kobayashi said.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.