Big Isle students back on bus until contract resolved
Private bus operator Roberts Hawaii has agreed to continue transporting Big Island public school students until the resolution of a contract dispute with the state that left hundreds of students without a ride to school on Thursday.
Roberts has been trying for several months to get out of two contracts with the Department of Education to provide bus services in West Hawaii midway through the contracts' six-year terms, citing escalating costs.
The DOE has sued to force Roberts to honor the contracts. A preliminary court hearing is set for next week.
One contract provides transportation to about 750 regular-education students per day in the North Kohala-Honokaa-Kealakehe areas, while the other serves around 30 special-education students there, the department said.
A miscommunication over the temporary agreement left Roberts Hawaii thinking the DOE would pick up the regular-education students with its own buses on Thursday morning. Once the error was discovered, the company sent out its buses, said Roberts Hawaii Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Robert Moore.*
"It was an honest misunderstanding," Moore said, adding that Roberts Hawaii would cover all the disputed routes until the matter is resolved.
Moore said the routes are no longer tenable for the company, due to skyrocketing fuel and other costs and new competition from the DOE itself, which launched its own limited bus service last year on some Big Island routes.
That forced Roberts Hawaii to offer more benefits to drivers to match the DOE benefits, he said.
DOE Student Transportation Services Manager Blanche Fountain said the state was willing to release Roberts Hawaii from the contracts, but received no response when it rebid the routes to find a replacement provider.
Sunday, January 8, 2006
» Robert Moore is the managing director and chief operating officer of Roberts Hawaii. A story on Page A5 yesterday said incorrectly that he was president. Robert N. Iwamoto Jr. is president and chief executive officer.