Fare hikes, strike still hurting bus
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer
Honolulu's bus system is still struggling to rebuild ridership 20 months after it suffered the double whammy of a monthlong strike and two fare increases.
Ridership on Honolulu has averaged about 5.28 million a month in the past 10 months, down from 5.65 million in the pre-strike fiscal year ending in June 2003, said James Burke, acting director of the city's Public Transit Division.
"We're climbing back slowly. We'd like to be back completely by the end of this year," Burke said.
While the fare increases have offset lost revenue from the missing riders, officials worry that many former riders have switched to their own cars, adding to congestion on roads and limiting opportunities to expand the bus system in the near future.
In the 2002-2003 fiscal year there were more than 67.8 million riders to use the bus system, but that dropped sharply the following year after bus drivers and mechanics went on a monthlong strike in the fall of 2003 and the City Council twice raised fares doubling them in most cases to help offset operational losses.
Those increases have helped the bus meet a city requirement that fare box revenues account for between 27 percent and 33 percent of the system's operating expenses. City taxpayers subsidize the rest of the $117 million annual bus operation costs.
"The fare increases and the strike (in August and September 2003) forced people to find other ways to get around and it's been hard to get all of them back," said Clyde Earle, executive assistant to the city's director of transportation services.
Forty percent of the lost ridership came from bus pass holders, including adults who saw their monthly prices double from $20 to $40.
Riders waiting for a bus home yesterday afternoon in Honolulu said officials should consider adding more buses, getting them on a better schedule and cutting fares if they want people to return.
"The best thing they could do is be on time," said Wai'anae resident Kelly Adric, who gave up her monthly bus pass after the strike but still buys one for her two children each month. "Plus, some of the drivers are really grouchy."
Bruce Allie of Kalihi also thought service could be improved. "They doubled the fare, but the buses still don't come on time. People are so used to the delays, they don't even complain anymore," he said.
Despite the drop in riders, Earle said, the system operates at capacity during peak hours.
"They come every 10 minutes in Ma'ili, but they're still crowded," said Jurgen Meyers, a 26-year-old painter. "Maybe when the strike happened people found a different way to get around, but the buses are still full."
The city is conducting a review of all bus operations to improve performance standards route by route, Earle said.
"The trick is to provide more capacity and service using the same amount of bus hours,"
he said. Possible solutions include creating more circulatory bus routes and more express services. Ultimately, the city would like to add about 200 buses and increase the number of high-capacity, articulated buses in use, he said.
Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or firstname.lastname@example.org