Harris and Council
differ on plans
to hike bus fares
The mayor says more revenue
is needed to avert a bus strike
Mayor Jeremy Harris says the City Council's latest proposal to raise bus fares isn't good enough so he plans to suggest changes, as the two sides struggle to avoid a looming bus strike next week.
Harris said the Council's new bus fare proposal, unveiled yesterday, will not generate the $6.8 million needed to prevent bus service cuts and resulting layoffs.
The mayor's suggested changes to the Council fare plan may come as early as today, his staff said.
"Our fare increase package presented to the Council earlier this month fairly distributed the revenue increases across all fare categories," Harris said.
Layoffs -- up to 40 bus drivers could be let go -- are at the core of stalled negotiations between Local 996 of the Teamsters Union and Oahu Transit Services, the private operator of the city's bus system.
The union, which represents 1,400 bus employees, has called for a strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday if no settlement is reached.
The Harris administration delayed bus service reductions for 30 days.
The City Council's proposal generates a little more than $3 million in additional revenue. Council members say that the money will help to pay for $1.6 million in previously negotiated pension payments and help restore express bus service cut in June.
The proposal calls for:
>> Restoration of a pass system for senior citizens -- a $3 monthly pass or a $30 annual pass. Seniors currently pay $25 every two years. The Council scrapped the Harris administration's much-criticized proposal for a 25-cents-a-ride charge for seniors in lieu of the passes.
"Mostly I hear from seniors who are concerned about the increase in bus fares," Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said.
>> Children between 6 and 17 years old pay $1 at the box and $20 a month. Youths now pay 75 cents a ride and $13.50 for a monthly pass.
>> An adult monthly pass costing $35 instead of the administration proposed $37. It now costs $30.
>> The introduction of new premium passes geared toward express riders -- adults pay $45, youths $30 and seniors $13. They will be able to use the pass for express and regular routes.
>> A new $5 day pass which allows unlimited rides for 24 hours.
Senior citizens -- a group considered politically active -- continue to be the focus as the Council shapes its fare proposal.
Kobayashi said she did not like the administration's proposal because the increase falls mostly on seniors and she will oppose any further attempt to raise senior fares higher than the Council's proposal.
"I agree that it's low (now) but they'll be paying $60 for two years so we have to hear from them," Kobayashi said. "I don't think we could raise it anymore. I'm not sure whether this is too much already."
But Harris said that seniors have been getting a good deal because their bus rides are heavily subsidized by other taxpayers.
"Seniors pay an average just 4 cents per ride. Therefore, the remaining ... cost for a senior ride must be paid by property taxpayers and motorists through their gas tax," Harris said.
Kobayashi said that the higher fares would also hurt families with several children. "If you have a family of four children going to school, that might be a burden."
Council Transportation Chairman Nestor Garcia called the Council proposal "a work in progress." The Council holds a public hearing on the measure Monday at 10 a.m.
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Bus contract proposal
to be offered today
Bus union officials said they will present their latest contract proposal to their membership today as they prepare for last-ditch negotiations to avert a planned bus strike on Tuesday.
The proposal may be the last chance for tens of thousands of Oahu residents who ride TheBus daily.
Both sides, Oahu Transit Service, the company that runs TheBus, and Teamsters 996, the union representing bus workers, are scheduled to meet on Monday with a federal mediator, the day before the strike deadline.
"The plan was that the union will continue to prepare for a strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26," said Teamster spokesman Chris Boucher. "The members of this union will no longer be used as scapegoats for the city administration."
OTS officials said they have already submitted their modified proposal on Aug. 14, during the last negotiation session. OTS spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus said the company has no plans to meet with union members before the meeting on Monday.
Both Dicus and Boucher agreed that the city made things easier for both sides when it delayed scheduled service cuts this month for 30 days.
The city had planned to reduce 80,000 hours of bus service starting Sunday. OTS officials said the cuts would mean that up to 40 bus drivers would be laid off. The service cuts and proposed layoffs are major sticking points in the negotiations.
"No person in the transit business is ever in favor of a service cutback," Dicus said.
City officials, meanwhile, have posted commuting alternatives for commuters on its strike information Web site, www.co.honolulu.hi.us/dts/ strike/strike92103.htm.
According to the site, private cabs will be picking up passengers at city bus stops in the event of a strike.
However, the city does not give details about which taxi companies are participating or how often cabs will be coming by bus stops for pickups. The Web site states that the cabs will charge up to $3 per ride and will only travel on bus routes.
Dale Evans, owner and operator of Charley's Taxi, said the city called her Aug. 15 for a meeting last Monday regarding the bus strike. Evans said her response was, "No way."
"How can a taxi driver afford to charge that much? Only $3 a head," Evans asked. "Even if you get three people in a cab that's only $9 ... and how far will they be going?
"It doesn't make sense. ... This is not about business, it's about politics."
Options for Mililani and Waipio commuters include taking Leeward Oahu Transportation Management Association (LOTMA) express buses leaving at 6 a.m. and 6:50 a.m. to downtown and Waikiki. The buses will also return in the evening.
Fares are $3.50 each way on weekdays. The Polynesian Adventure Tours luxury coaches are subsidized by Castle & Cooke Hawaii Homes, Inc. and the Gentry Cos. Regular commuters will have priority for seats, but they will be adding more buses in the event of a strike.
Bus riders have also been coming up with their own plans.
Matt Luttrell, waiting at the bus stop at Punchbowl and King streets, said he will take his beach cruiser bike to work downtown.
"I'm not taking a cab, and I'm not going to drive my car," he said. "I don't think my employer would mind me coming to work all sweaty that one day."