Friday, November 19, 2004

City’s hybrid buses have
smooth ride in debut

About 3,000 to 3,500 riders hop
on the Bus Rapid Transit route

Bus rider Cuse Sananap said he can't wait to ride the city's new hybrid electric buses again.

"It's the best," said Sananap, who stepped out of one of the sleek-looking buses at Ala Moana Center yesterday afternoon. "It's very enjoyable."

An estimated 3,000 to 3,500 passengers rode the hybrid electric- and gas-powered buses, dubbed TheTransit, in the first 12 hours of the new "E route" from Aala Park to Waikiki yesterday. It was one of the highest ridership figures for a new route, said city Managing Director Ben Lee.

TheTransit and the E route are part of the first -- and perhaps only -- leg of the city's Bus Rapid Transit system.

BRT was designed in two parts -- an in-town bus service and regional service -- but failed to gain wide acceptance. In September the federal government pulled $20 million in funding. Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann opposes the project, and it might be up to him to determine what happens next.

Some passengers like Sananap described the hybrid buses as efficient, while other passengers said other, regular bus routes are quicker than the hybrids' E route.

The E route uses eight of the hybrid buses and two regular city buses. The route's first bus will depart at 5 a.m. weekdays, with the last bus leaving just past midnight. Buses will run every 10 to 15 minutes.

Twenty stops are made through downtown, Kakaako, Ala Moana and Waikiki. The hybrid buses, which cost $750,000 each, offer a quieter ride and are more fuel-efficient.

"It saves 50 percent of fuel each day," said Lee. "It's good for our environment. We're not spitting out all that diesel fuel in our roadways."

Sananap, who rode from Union Mall to Ala Moana Center out of curiosity about the new buses, said it only took a half-hour to reach Ala Moana.

Riding through Kakaako was also pleasant, he said. "It takes me closer to the beach. ... I'd like to take it again in the evening so I can watch the sunset."

But a Waikiki resident said other city buses are quicker because of the route the hybrid bus takes through Kakaako.

"The No. 19 and 20 buses are more direct," said Tom, who did not want to give his last name.

But Lee noted that the BRT will service high-density areas and that it will benefit the Kakaako area where the University of Hawaii medical school, residential developments and more retail shops are being constructed or planned.

Lee said all hybrid buses ran smoothly yesterday with the exception of one bus that had brake problems downtown.

"When the doors lock, it releases all the brakes. However, the computer system (in the bus) did not release the brakes," he said.

A mechanic repaired the bus.

Cliff Slater, spokesman for the Alliance for Traffic Improvement and a longtime critic of the BRT, said he plans to study the ridership figures and whether the buses contribute to traffic congestion in Waikiki.

"We'd like to see the impact on Kalakaua Avenue," said Slater. "We think it's going to have a significant impact on traffic congestion."

Lee countered that the new system "flowed pretty well" in Waikiki.

Construction on Kuhio Avenue has slowed traffic but is expected to improve once the project is completed in early December, he said.


1,800 riders to test new
‘smart cards’ for buses

Hundreds of Honolulu bus riders will be able to use a computerized card as a bus pass during a three-month pilot project that the city will start next month.

A total of 1,800 employees from corporations will test the "smart card" fare system, called BusLink, starting Dec. 1. The corporations include Island Insurance, Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Queen's Medical Center and Straub Clinic & Hospital.

"The pilot project will test all the software and the card readers, and eventually we will have all 150,000 bus riders using the smart card," city Managing Director Ben Lee said yesterday.

Card readers will be installed in all 525 city buses by the start date. Employees involved in the project are bus riders who pay for their bus passes through a payroll deduction.

The card is similar to a credit card that includes a computer chip.

Former City Transportation Director Cheryl Soon had estimated planning and equipment costs at $1.85 million. An additional $125,000 from the 2005 budget is slated for purchase of more equipment and cards.

In July the city began an initial three-month test of the system between Waianae and downtown Honolulu. A hundred volunteers from Express Route 93 tested the smart card. The volunteers received free bus rides during that period.

The city plans to look into using the smart card system for students and senior citizens.

"We'd like to see all bus riders use the BusLink card and do away with the paper bus pass," said Lee.



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