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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Summer fun trips may not happen

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

It looks like a popular city-sponsored summer fun program will skip the road trips this year because of a big jump in bids for the price of busing the kids to excursions.

City Parks and Recreation Director Lester Chang said normally the program pays about $2 per child per trip to take elementary-school-age children on various excursions, but this year the bids from four local bus companies are averaging more than triple that around $7 per person per trip.

The parks staff has been working on alternatives to plan a fun program without the need to lease buses, said Windward District recreation supervisor Miles Hazama.

"I'm very confident that we can put on a program that will be good," he said.

Hazama, whose district goes from Waialua to Waimanalo, said his staff plans to bring in storytellers, bounce houses and other activities that can be brought to the centers rather than having buses take the children out into the community.

But he knows that some children may be disappointed they won't be going to Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, Ice Palace or on other trips out of their communities.

"There are some kids who never get to go to the other side of the island," Hazama said. "For them, you can't make up that loss."

Chang said the program took 580 trips in 2005 and had planned for 530 trips this year until they were stopped short by bids from four bus companies.

Under the bids, a trip from 'Aina Haina to the theaters in Iwilei would cost a total of $357 this year, up from $150 last year, city estimates show. A trip from Moanalua Community Park to Hawaiian Waters would cost $438.75 this year, up from $128 last year and $94 the year before.

"That's way too much," Chang said.

To keep the program affordable, Chang said the city usually passes on activity fees to families while keeping the basic cost of the program from morning to midafternoon low. It varies from site to site, depending on activities, length of program at each location and whether longer care is available as an option.

An executive for one of the bus companies said higher fuel costs and a labor shortage drove up the price over the past two years. However, Roberts Hawaii managing director Robert Moore said he would still work with city officials to try to find a way to make the excursions work.

Moore said another thing that pushed up the price for his company was a change in the way that it charges for the buses. In the past, they charged the city for trips to and from the excursion site, thinking the bus might be available for other jobs in between.

"Now we're charging for the time that the bus was actually tied up," he said.

But Moore remains hopeful that his company could work something out rather than leave the children without excursions.

"We'd like to put the fun back into summer fun," Moore said.

Hazama said his staff may use the city bus for some short trips, such as taking one class to a movie.

Chang said the program appears to have gotten past another potential hurdle this year hiring enough aides to run the program for an estimated 10,000 children.

In April, about 450 out of 550 aides were still needed, but that number now is down to 48. The city hopes to hire the rest by the end of this month.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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